Review: '4 Months' an unflinching look at life

If you’re a guy you won’t totally get it. But if you just “get” that you don’t totally get it, you got it. And that should be enough to deliver a devastating blow to the solar plexus.

“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” dramatizes the isolation of women in instances of unwanted pregnancies with a hypnotizing, unflinching focus.

A defining moment comes late in this harrowing tale from the waning days of Communist Romania in the late 1980s.

Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), with little preamble, confronts her boyfriend, Adi (Alex Potocean) on his lack of concern for the possible consequences of their unprotected sex (AIDS was still not a large concern).

Her barrage of razor sharp queries arises from a consciousness suddenly unleashed by the traumatizing task of obtaining an illicit abortion for her dorm roommate, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), the movie deriving its title from her advanced state.

Despite Gabita’s irresponsibly slow, if not paralytic response, further complicated by dishonesty, Otilia while irritated, suspends judgment, lending support that demands literally unspeakable sacrifices. Both are well aware at this stage, the term “abortion” applies with considerable license.

Otilia has briefly taken leave of this task, attending Adi’s mother’s birthday party for the sake of appearances. Informed of the duty to which she must return, Adi still doesn’t grasp the relative superfluous nature of his family celebration.

Director Cristian Mungiu lets us see the light go on in Adi’s head, his indifference illuminated. Unmasked and incriminated, he stands as naked as a blue jay, no fig leaf for his profound shame.

The moment provides the only breathing room, and it’s damn slim, from the actual crisis still unfolding. Otilia, in support of her deer-in-the headlights roommate, has raised money, negotiated with disreputable back-alley characters, while circumventing the rigid laws of a totalitarian state.

In the recently-released and widely acclaimed “Juno” we meet an endearing and unlikely poised 16-year-old. Discovering she’s pregnant during a trivializing scene in the local store, where the clerk makes jokes about her repeated purchase of pregnancy tests, the teen goes out to seek adoptive parents for her child-to-be with no more consternation than shopping for a college.

In contrast, the stark “4 Months’ does nothing to soften the age-old tax on fornication.

From the minimal interior lighting, cloudy skies and rain-soaked streets to the emotionally stunted and curt individuals that appear at every turn—the claustrophobic tableau, without pity or respite, allows the themes of isolation, vulnerability and death to play themselves out.

No dark humor, no consolation–the movie never betrays itself.

“4 Months,” with dialogue in another language (and subtitles) is better described as universal than foreign. It’s not an “art house film”— nothing symbolic or metaphorical, just honesty.

Despite an unwavering bluntness, “4 Months,” winner of the top prize at last year’s Cannes, brings nuance and depth through deft production and performances, accomplishments that deservedly gained the picture distribution in the US.

The Academy Awards just nominated “Juno” for best picture–the same story, with the exception of the scriptwriter, who comes to the aid of one woman and not the other.

Grade: A-

Lester Gray reviews movies for Read all of Examiner’s movie reviews.

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