4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days “is not an issue movie,” writes New Yorker critic Anthony Lane in the current issue. “We are not being forced to vote, and the characters are defined less by any stated beliefs than by the moral texture of their actions.
“Look carefully at [the aobrtionist] Bebe as he unpacks his briefcase of crude tools: he is made faceless, filmed from chest to thigh, and that suits his status as a predatory machine. And, once he has departed, having exacted a terrible payment for his services, look at Otilia: She leaves Gabita to rest and goes, as promised, to her boyfriend√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s parents√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ house for a birthday dinner.
“There she sits at a table, surrounded by gleaming food and idle chatter, her thoughts miles away and fathoms deep. Again, hands reach in from the side, this time for pickles and wine, but the camera holds steady, minute upon minute, and we gaze at her, face to face. How can people feast when she has just come from the pits of degradation, and must shortly return to dispose of an unwanted fetus? Disposal, incidentally, is recommended via the garbage chute of a high-rise apartment building; try going from this film to Sweeney Todd, with its corpses dumped for comic effect, and see how long you last.
“All of which makes 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days sound more or less unwatchable. Mungiu√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s pacing is so sure, however, in its switching from loose to taut, and the concentration of his leading lady so unwavering, that the movie, which won the Palme d√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢Or at last year√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Cannes Film Festival, feels more like a thriller than a moody wallow. When someone approaches Otilia from behind, on an ill-lit street, you brace yourself for the worst. But the film stops short of the worst, by an inch — or, rather, it becomes a concise survey of how to deal with the worst.
“Do you cave in helplessly, like Gabita? Do you sour into something nastier than the system that bred you, like Bebe? Or do you summon your depleted energy, like Otilia, and brave it out? If so, are we allowed to imagine her, two years later, crowding with tens of thousands of others in front of the Central Committee building and howling down a tyrant? You bet.”