Given the recent run of Cannes winners — where the judging process seems to go: 'Bleak? Unfathomable? Impossibly pretentious? Give it the Palme D'Or' — the arrival of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days was less than eagerly awaited at chez Screenjabber.
Then we discovered the subject matter (illegal abortion), the setting (1980s Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu) and the format (generally fixed cameras in a series of unfeasibly long single takes). Did we say less than eagerly anticipated? By that stage we were thinking 'wild horses...' And then we saw it. And, frankly — and to borrow from Dave Eggers — 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius. That it then somehow manages to rebuild those shattered pieces of your heart and send you on your way with deep sense of hope ... this is something very special indeed.
The focus of the film is Otilia (Marinca, so impressive in Sex Traffic and even better here). She's the rock on which the film, and pregnant roommate Gabita (Vasiliu), relies and Mungiu's camera follows her through this traumatic day, from borrowing money from her boyfriend, to meeting abortionist Mr Bebe (Ivanov), and arranging a hotel room where this highly punishable act can take place.
The use of the continuous takes — particularly the drawn out scenes where the camera is fixed — lend a painful sense of realism, dropping the viewer firmly into the role of voyeur and building the tension, in real time, to quite exceptional levels. However, while Mungiu forces you to observe, he keeps his distance: there is no judgement here, no pat resolution. This is painfully real and painfully human but, somehow, quite exceptionally beautiful. It's also not without humour: an extended scene of a birthday party at Otilia's boyfriend's house is utterly charming and frequently hilarious but every frame features that incredible depth and sense of reality. Exceptional.