Archive for February, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days – Palme d’Or Winner Tackles Totalitarianism, Reproductive Rights

February 1, 2008

4monthstwogirlsatwindow In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, filmmaker Cristian Mungiu offers an unsparing view of life under Communist Totalitarianism in 1980’s Romania. Beneath the oppressive rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, household appliances are often shared, cigarettes and gum require black market finagling, and contraception is virtually unavailable.

In an effort to populate the country and increase its labor force, Ceausescu criminalized the use of the IUD and contraceptive pill, while Romania’s socialist economy ensured that other forms of birth control were exceedingly scarce. In 1966, except under relatively rare conditions, abortion became punishable by imprisonment for both the patient and the doctor, who additionally risked losing his or her medical license. Employers mandated gynecological exams and were required to report employee pregnancies to the state, whereupon women were monitored by the state until delivery.

It is a reality that some Americans would consider appealing. These Americans should see 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

The reality of the situation in Romania, in what has been termed the Golden Age of the Breeding Machine, was an intended increase in birth rates…initially. However, after the first several years birth rates slowly returned to pre-1966 levels and in concordance, maternal death rates steadily rose.

But don’t expect to find politics in 4 Months, or even any historical context. The film is presented without music and much of the action is captured in long, stationary shots where characters move in and out of frame. In fact, it provides little exposition of any kind. The film opens simply, as two friends, in mid-conversation, prepare themselves for a frightening and dangerous night where, we eventually discover, one will help the other procure an illegal abortion.

Mungui based the screenplay on real events that occurred in 1987, when he was close in age to the girls in the film.

It’s somehow a personal story to me. Someone told me fifteen years ago about something that happened to them a few years before that. Eventually, last year, when I was looking for a story that happened during my twenties, I ran into this person again and the story came into conversation. I was surprised with how much emotion this story was still bringing to me, and decided to make this the subject of my next film.

Although the story elicits such emotion for Mungui, his film makes no judgments about abortion. It’s not pro-life and it’s not pro-choice. Instead, the film steps back and lets a human story tell itself, as though we were given a peep through a keyhole into another reality where two girls, although desperate, determined, and terrified, seem not so different from American girls today.

Mungiu insists it’s not a film about abortion, but rather totalitarianism. It illuminates a world were personal choices are controlled by the state and reveals the oppression and tragedy that can result. Would the outcome be so different in the United States if unmarried youth were restricted knowledge of and access to birth control, and abortion illegal?

We are not so far from this as we might think. Consider the billions of dollars spent on abstinence-only programs, President Bush’s appointees in the Office of Family Planning, the restrictions placed on global aid for HIV/AIDS by mandatory abstinence programs, and the fact that Roe v Wade is an issue in the Presidential campaigning of 2008…

But aside from social or political implications, I recommend this film for its very mastery of film making. Its approach to the art form borders on revolutionary and Mungui’s lack of sentimentality is (in my view) heroic.

We’ve had enough heart-warming fantasy-comedies about unexpected pregnancy. If abortion were to become illegal and comprehensive sex-ed neglected, we wouldn’t have a country full of Juno‘s. We’d have a country with an increased rate of unintended pregnancies, and the tragic (anti)heroines of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.


“Coaching Boys Into Men” NY Domestic Violence Campaign Seen as “Boybashing” by Men’s Rights Group

February 1, 2008

Here’s the print ad. What do you think? Orangeboy_sm

The men’s activist group The New York Coalition of Fathers and Families recently staged a protest against the ads, which are sponsored by New York’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. The ads will appear in print, and in TV and radio spots throughout the state.

Some people recognize that domestic violence awareness efforts and aid services routinely fail to target male victims. Jan Brown, Founder and Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women, works daily to provide support to, and raise awareness about, male victims of domestic abuse. (Although interestingly, the organization targets heterosexual couples only. Men abused by women.) See Comments.

The critics of these ads, however, seem motivated by open aggression and hate. The ads may focus on domestic abuse against women specifically, but they persecute no one. The NY Coalition of Fathers and Families accuses the ads of painting all men as abusive by default.

Radio commentator Glenn Sacks writes that

if it really were a “Domestic Violence Public Awareness Media Campaign,” we’d be made aware that women are just as likely to attack their male partners as vice versa, but any mention of that is strictly verboten.

He neglects to back up his claims with any statistics. I guess we take him at his word…

But more than that, there are lots of ways to disrespect women. Demeaning, shaming, and destructive behavior occurs every day in the absence of physical violence. Yet the protesters seem unaware or unconvinced of this concept, at least judging by the comments to Sacks’ post.

And the ad doesn’t try to peg boys as necessarily destructive toward women. Will a boy necessarily avoid vegetables? Play with matches? Neglect his homework? No, but he might. Especially if the behavior is common in his environment and no one talks to him about the importance of these issues.

Yes, the ad could have said “respect others,” or “respect the opposite sex,” or “respect those with whom you’re in a relationship.” It didn’t. It focused on female domestic abuse, yet in doing so it didn’t attack or degrade men.

I mean really, a protest? I know that courts are skewed toward women when it comes to divorce and child custody. I personally know men who suffer from these kinds of injustice. But picking a fight over ads that teach respect is about as helpful to men’s rights as NOW‘s New York chapter accusing Ted Kennedy of “the ultimate betrayal” (for endorsing Barack over Hillary) is to women’s rights.  It’s ill-intended, counter-productive, and just plain embarrassing.