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

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.

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