No wire hangers, Romanian style

Posted on 14 Feb 2008 at 6:12pm
By Steve Warren – Contributing Film Critic
Dark, harrowing, anti-’Juno’ film overlooked by Academy Awards


4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS
B
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Cast: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu and Alexandru Potoceanu
Opens: Feb. 15 at the Angelika Dallas.
1 hr. 43 min.  Not rated.

Depending on their degree of faith in the Oscar nominating process, people in the industry are waiting with great anticipation or skepticism to see the nine foreign-language films that were shortlisted (and five of them nominated) over "Persepolis" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." They’ll have to be pretty incredible, if they’re actually more deserving than these two.

The winner of last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes and many other awards, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" would seem like a mystery if you went in without knowing what it’s about. In Romania in 1987, two college roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) are getting ready for something. It’s not clear what, but it’s obvious that the nervous Gabita is putting all the responsibility off on Otilia, who seems to be a natural take-charge type.

The few details Gabita was supposed to take care of have been mishandled, and Otilia is left to sort them out. To make matters worse, Otilia’s boyfriend, Adi (Alexandru Potocean) is pressuring her to attend a birthday dinner for his mother that evening.

It’s eventually revealed that Gabita is getting an abortion. While that may be the emotional core of the film, it’s really a broader look at life under communism, which was soon to end in Romania. Details large and small show the deprivation people lived with, the difficulty of dealing with bureaucracy and the ready availability of everything from breath mints to abortions for a price on the black market.

It’s interesting that a generation has grown up in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989. Cristian Mungiu, this film’s writer-producer-director was born a generation earlier, in 1968, so he knows both sides.

You can argue about whether "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is pro-life (you won’t see an aborted fetus in Planned Parenthood ads) or pro-choice (if abortion is legal, women aren’t subject to the risks and other negatives they suffer in this film to obtain one). Either way it’s definitely anti-communist.

Vlad Ivanov plays Mr. Bebe, the abortionist, a genuinely scary man. He’s very finicky about how things should be done, largely for his own protection, and surprising about how he expects to be paid. Gabita complicates things by not getting a room in one of his favored hotels, where they’re better about looking the other way, and by lying about being in her first trimester when she’s actually … Well, check the title, although the script doesn’t get that specific.

Mungiu works in long takes, often with a static camera. Whether that’s for artistic or budgetary reasons, it puts a strain on the actors, who come through with flying colors. Marinca is amazing at the dinner table scene, where her silence says more than all the conversation flowing around her. She makes Otilia a honey. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a lot of tension to shake off after this movie.)

Two generations, two cultures, two ways of dealing with a "problem." You couldn’t ask for two more different films than "Juno" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," but they illustrate the diversity of good movies.



DRUNK ON SPIRITUALITY

Punk rock clashes with Broadway in the intoxicating concert DVD, "Kiki & Herb Live at the Knitting Factory" (Alive Mind, $24.98).

You thought they expired with their 2004 Carnegie Hall concert, "Kiki and Herb Will Die for You"? Nope.

In this concert DVD, taped during the "Year of Magical Drinking" tour, Kiki explains they were actually born in Nazareth just before Jesus Christ in the manger.

In the barn, a cow ate Jesus’ afterbirth. The next day, a thirsty Kiki and Herb drank the cow’s milk and became immortal. So they can’t die.

They actually knew Jesus in the "biblical sense." Kiki says Jesus was the first hippie a bisexual, beautiful superstar. And they killed him. It’s a cautionary tale: Don’t get too happy, peace loving and don’t try to challenge the man too much or they’ll nail you to something and won’t let you go.

Between monologues, they weave versions of The Geraldine Fibbers’ songs "Lilybelle" and the Butt Trumpet’s "I’m Ugly (and I Don’t Know Why)."

Daniel A. Kusner

Grade: B


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2008

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