4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
(4 Luni, 3 Saptamâni Si 2 Zile)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu
Running time: 113 minutes
What are the criteria for a New Wave? Must it be an outgrowth of a national cinema? Must there be photographic or aesthetic experimentation? Must a New Wave stand in stark opposition to the ideas of its antecedents? Why wasn’t Dogme 95 a New Wave? Or Mumblecore? While there is a certain flavor of cinephile who might derive some pleasure from the answers to these questions, we can put them aside and, with utter certainty, say that something remarkable is happening in Romanian cinema. Tonight’s picture, for all its tenebrous residue, fills a shining post in the diadem of this newest of New Waves. Having won the Palme d’Or (and the FIPRESCI) at Cannes in 2007, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS set a high bar for fellow nationals (Puiu, Nemescu, Muntean, …) as well as his rattling followup, BEYOND THE HILLS (2012).
Set in 1987, toward the end of the Ceauşescu regime, two female university students embark on a kind of Long Dark Night of the Soul. The camera reveals their dorm room discretely, skittering back in increments as the action moves toward us. The sound of a clock ticking on the half second seems to meter out the relatively stationary camera’s footage into small eternities. Otilia’s (Anamaria Marinca) half of the room is a chilly blue. Găbiţa’s (Laura Vasiliu) is neutral to rosy. We follow Otilia without knowing precisely what she’s trying to accomplish. Information trickles in slowly. And when it comes, it does so without fanfare. The halls of the dorm are dimly lit. Many interiors in this film blink in and out of view as an inadequate bulb denounces a deteriorating infrastructure. Vessels of authority are not only missing, they’re malign: an ambulance shows up not to help during medical emergency, but to run Otilia off the road. Black markets are everywhere: soap, cigarettes, movies and milk powder. And choice is rare. Marlboros are in supply while Kents are a commodity. Privacy, at least for these young women, is under duress. Otilia finds, through a classmate, that one of her academy officers is looking for her and, incidentally, also knows her menstrual cycle is no excuse to be missing. Later, when she tries to check in to a hotel, Otilia’s motives for checking in undergo interrogation. These items are beyond personal, idiosyncratic nosiness. Despite these several violations, there is something respectful about Mungiu’s camera. It hangs back from Otilia on each occasion she catches the bus. It’s as if her journey is something the spectator cannot really join in on, even as we proceed to follow her.
Ultimately, tonight’s film is a story about transactions: the cost of time, security and being a woman. And what one gets in return. Often in excess of what was bargained for: isolation, fear, distrust and betrayal.
16 August 2013