State patriarchy on film

Submitted by martin on 9 February, 2008 - 5:57 Author: Rebecca Galbraith

According to Anamaria Marinca, one of the two lead actresses in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, “It isn't a film that is pro-abortion, neither is it against it; it's not as easy as that.”

This may be true, but 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days leaves you in no doubt about the horrific reality of illegal abortion. It is set in Romania in 1987. Abortion has been illegal for 20 years, as has contraception, (in order to swell the population), and an estimated 500,000 women have died from backstreet abortions.

Otilla (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) share a room in a student dormitory. Gabita is pregnant and Otilia offers to help her friend arrange an illegal abortion — finding the cash, booking the hotel room and liaising with the abortionist, Mr Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). The three meet in a hotel room where on finding out that Gabita’s pregnancy is more advanced than he had previously been told, Bebe demands sex from both women.

Filmed over one afternoon and evening, for the most part it uses available light and is shot almost entirely in long takes with extended, hand-held tracking shots or static cameras, increasing our involvement in this true story. One particularly claustrophobic scene is a static tableau of a tea party in which lengthy conversations are framed in a way that excludes people's heads and dialogue is delivered from off-screen.

Otilla is forced to attend this party at her boyfriend’s parents’ flat, leaving Gabita alone in a hotel room, where she is in danger of hemorrhaging if she moves and at risk of being sent to prison if she calls an ambulance.

The parents’ friends are middle aged doctors and academics who belittle Otilla for her sex, education and lower class family. She sits through their depressing conversations about the best way to cook potatoes, having just been subjected to the horrors of Bebe and waiting to return to find out if her friend is still alive.

The tension of the film is exacerbated by glimpses of life in the Eastern Bloc — the need to produce ID for everything and the bullying police. There are no blatant incidents of state brutality, but the patriarchy of the state is palpable in every scene, as is the isolated vulnerability of the two women, entirely at the mercy of Bebe grotesquely bathing in his power and knowledge.

Carrying the camera on her, the film closes with Otilla disposing of the fetus down a rubbish shoot, her only choice in a desperate attempt to avoid the police. Uncomfortable to watch, but an intimate and salient reminder about the choices women face when abortion is illegal.

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