Static camerawork, a strong focus on a limited number of protagonists, rare dialogue, no Soundtrack, dealing with an "important" theme, attemps to avoid everything that could seem lurid, natural acting, stylized images, etc., etc., etc.
Several things you can expect from modern Arthouse cinema or, at least, things which are easy to associate with it. Cristian Mungius Palm d'or-Winner "4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile" is a perfect candidate with the bonus that it's a Romanian movie. Of course, It is also a matter of political correctness to distinguish a Romanian film - the poor country has to be kept in the minds of the crowd. And because of this nice, fair attitude (Attention, irony), Romania could receive its first international film award since a long.
A close look on the film itself reveals, that there isn't really much that distinguish Mungiu's psychological experiment from the tons of european and oriental Arthouse-Films that appeared on the Screens of small cinemas withing the last few years. It feels more than just familiar from the very beginning. It's conventional, it's a bit pretentious (though I expected it to be worse) and it seems to be designed to fullfill the desires of critics, bourgeois Cineastes and, of course, A-Festival-Juries all around the world. In other words: I saw the film I expected to see. Not a compliment.
Almost the film I expected to see. Because, after all, there are a few important things that differents "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" from other prestigious Arthouse-Films - and they are mainly about its narrative style (the psychological constructions and the whole complex, everything the film is about, are not new or innovative except of the story itself). Those static images - here, they REALLY are part of the concept (I could name dozens of films in which the camerawork is just static to be static): There are three extremely fascinating and brilliant moments in this film: When Otilia (a marvellous authentic Anamaria Marinca) is sitting near the bed in the Hotel room on which her friend, Gabriela lays in wait for the finalization of the abortion, there is almost no Dialogue between her and Gabriela. Yet, this scene contains one of the key moments when Otilia recognizes that the new, negative change in her life wasn't Gabriela's fault (her character is out of the focus) but her own. Not because she organised everything for the abortion but because she didn't insist Bebe, the man who performed the abortion - he wanted to be paid with sex and instead of refusing it, she suggested herself that her devotion would be the only solution for Gabriela's problem. It doesn't matter that Gabriela's own problem became even bigger after that - Bebe also demanded that payment from her. What does matter is her own weakness in a challenging moment - just in this significant moment, she - a strong, independent young woman - wasn't strong enough. Maybe a political analogy as Romania was still under the pressure of a strong communistic government, maybe not. In my opinion, the film isn't political.
Back to the starting point: In this scene, Gabriela speaks to Otilia off screen, the camera remains on side-face on the smoking Otilia. Due to my limited english, I can assure it is hard to describe the things that are special and worthy about "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" because they will be received by every viewer very instinctive and different - as there are only two of the famous three levels - the obvious, the subliminal and the hidden - may, many will miss the subliminal and without the subliminal, it is hard to catch and tie up the hidden. The way, how the protagonists are seperated - or combined - in one image, though they are almost never alone - is the most interesting thing. There is some sort of psychological rythmn and melody in which Otilia is responsible for the minor tones, Gabriela and Otilia's boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) for the blue, "in between"-chords and Bebe for some odd, dry major tones. Especially the latter is important as Bebe - though disaffected and full of hate - is far the most vivid and naive character who doesn't reflect about more than the most necessary things. And at least, he is more honest with himself than Otilia and Gabriela are. The most ironic scene of the film is his farewell: Finally, after the two girls proved to be fair and gave him his "payment", there is no need for him to distrust them any longer: He becomes nice and handsome. Of course, neither Otilia or Gabriela appreciate it.
Another remarkable scene is the big dinner of Adi's mother to which Otilia is involved. Whyle she left a bleeding Gabriela in the Hotel Room (of course, naturally bleeding because of the abortion), she sits nervously in the middle of a bunch of bourgeouis elder peoble talking about the most banal things in a very repressive, conversative and insulting way. The camera remains on this scenery for several minutes and nothing happens, even the conversations isn't important anymore. This scene is quite similar to the other scene I described above: Again, the most remarkable aspect is the interposition of a state, a state of the moment which slowly opens to a meta-level when the viewer begins to ignore all the babbling around Otilia, the whole scenery. The following, intimate conversation between Otilia and Adi is an important addition and completion of that sequence.
Overall, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" surely is a fascinating and stimulating cinematic experience. But it is - imo - not a film that has the potential to grow a lot within a third, fourth or fifth viewing. There are too many films like this in existence already, there are too many films that dealt with the same matters in the same way, just in another language and on a different subject. I wish, it would have been more spiritual. It is challenging but not much of that, and it is honest but still too pretentious. I don't think that Cristian Mungiu made that film to win all those Awards but he obviously really wanted to make the film this way - but he sure made it with the image of 100 asking, shouting, smiling and crying critics deep in the back of his head, to make it clear: This film doesn't want to disappoint anybody (except maybe Mainstream-Audiences who would probably be bored to death) and so, it is absolutely not daring, experimental or innovative at all (There must be something wrong with a film that didn't motivate a few people to walk out of the theater, no matter for what reason). It wants everybody to be happy with it (I know, that sounds strange, maybe cynical in front of such a deeply serious subject), to be satisfied with it. I missed something without exactly knowing what - and somehow, I already (I watched it yesterday) remember it as a joint of breathtaking, inspiring and stand-alone scenes and not as a whole film. Maybe that's a bad sign, maybe not. Still, it probably is a new addition to my TOP 25 of 2007. By the way, the same is true with the slightly, but significantly better and truly amazing "Import/Export" by Ulrich Seidl (which I also would like to review but that would be even harder - I don't want to torture you all any longer) which I saw on the same day.
Rated 22 out of 25 with a tendency to 21. Watched in a local cinema in a German dubbed version (which was really poor, maybe it harmed the film a bit) and a wrong aspect ratio of approximately 1:2,00.
Sorry if you had a hard time to understand what I wrote!
* I researched if there wasn't already a thread for this one in existence and couldn't find one - If I overlooked it, I'm sorry.