(First, a general blog note: I’ve decided that I will write a semi-regular “Sadness Update,” once every week or so or whenever I feel like it. Look for that in a couple of days, probably after the next film I watch. As you might expect, this will sum up my feelings on the previous set of films, and the project’s overall effect on my level of happiness. I will also be happy to answer any questions you folks might have, so submit those in the comments, if you please.)
Category: Abortion film. Abortion is a major political issue in this country, by which I mean something that politicians love to talk about on campaigns, but not to actually do anything about once they’re in office. The degree of vitriol on both sides of the abortion debate has been unmatched by that of any other issue in recent memory. Recent prominent films like Juno and Knocked Up mention abortion in passing, but relatively few films take on abortion head-on. Those that do are often historical films that explore the difficulties of obtaining abortions when they were illegal. Such films include Vera Drake and The Cider House Rules, as well as this film.
It is also important to note this film’s status as a sad foreign film. As I alluded to in earlier posts, we Americans, on the whole, have it pretty good. Yes, freedom ain’t free, but a lot of really cool things are easily available at very low prices. Giant cans of Arizona iced tea, to name but one. (99 cents? You’re having a laugh!) Alex Tucciarone, a friend of the blog, recently offered many suggestions of films to watch for this project, most of which are foreign films. As he explained in his inimitable blend of English and Italian, “we Americani don’t like to ruminate on sad things.” (Except THIS Americano.) The mere fact that non-Americans DON’T get to enjoy all the great nearly free stuff that we Americans do is sad enough. This is the first foreign film I am watching, and I am certain that there will be many more to come. (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days also falls into the subgenre of films about life in the Eastern bloc during the Cold War, the personal significance of which will be alluded to in about five seconds and then discussed in greater depth later on.)
My familiarity in this issue: I studied abroad in Prague during the fall semester of my senior year in college. While in retrospect this was an important and edifying experience in my life, it was quite different, frankly inferior in many ways, to living in America. For example, what is it with people there not speaking English? To be fair, at least half of the Czech people I encountered did have some command of English, but c’mon now. We’re the new Rome. Let’s figure it out here, people. So I’m pretty familiar with the whole foreign thing. (Also, I have no personal connection with abortion, as I was not aborted. But I do really like the song “Brick” by Ben Folds Five.)
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Drama about a woman who assists her friend to arrange an illegal abortion in 1980's Romania.” (Slim pickings on actual plot summaries for the foreign films, apparently.)
What I thought of the film: It’s really great. Really tense and unsettling and gripping. It’s a testament to Cristian Mungiu (the director) and Anamaria Marinca (the actress who plays Otilia, the protagonist of the film) that, by the end of the movie, we feel as emotionally drained as the characters do from their ordeal. Mungiu is all about the gritty realism thing here, and it totally works. The whole movie is basically Otilia going from one place to another, trying to arrange an illegal abortion for her roommate Gabita, and then dealing with the aftermath of the event. Mungiu uses handheld cameras to shakily follow Otilia around during these scenes. I can also recall two instances in the film where the camera doesn’t move for several minutes, focusing on characters who are uncomfortable, trapped even, forcing us to try to put ourselves in their mindset at those moments.
There’s some stuff in this movie that is profoundly disturbing and will probably stick with me for a while. In one of the scenes to which I just alluded, the doctor who is to perform the abortion (a realllllly sinister character) bluntly and dispassionately explains what the procedure will entail, before moving on to discuss how much the procedure will cost. (That last part was a veiled way of me saying that he forces both Otilia and Gabita to have sex with him. I’m tactful like that.) The end of the film (SPOILER alert, I guess; we’ve been through this, people) is the really disturbing bit, as Otilia has to dispose of the fetus, WHICH THEY SHOW. WHAT. Here is my reaction to this scene, as captured in a Gchat conversation with Ellen Barr, a friend of the blog:
Gross stuff. This part is almost like a horror film. It’s nighttime, and Mungiu uses the darkness and shadows to underscore the tension as Otilia breathlessly searches for a safe place to get rid of it. This part was pretty terrifying, and knowing when and where the film takes place only makes it worse. Of course, if I were carrying around a fetus in my bag, I’d probably be pretty paranoid too, and I don’t live under a repressive totalitarian government.
How I, John Krizel, related to the film: Weirdly, a lot. My experience in Prague was responsible for this. Otilia and Gabita are students, and live in a dorm building that really, REALLY resembles the Soviet-era dorm that we American students were housed in during our program. The university building they attend really, REALLY resembles the Charles University building where we had all our classes. They even ride trams that reminded me a ton of the Czech tramvaj. All about uniformity, the Soviets were. But the opening shots of that dorm were, like, spooky. This really helped me empathize with the characters, because those were some bleak living arrangements. I mean, it had walls and floors and toilets and stuff, but it wasn’t great. Listen, I went to George Washington University, which consistently ranks near the top of those “Best Dorms in the US” polls, so maybe I’m spoiled here. But that dorm was grim. I know exactly how those girls must have felt (except for the whole "having to get an illegal abortion" thing).
How I felt after the movie ended: Not quite so sad or depressed as just bleak. The bleakness of this movie was very infectious (possibly because it’s a really gray, gloomy day out; the weather does seem to have an effect on how I feel after these movies end). Even though the movie has an ostensibly “happy” ending (“happy” is definitely the wrong word there; the characters succeed in what they set out to do, but at a tremendous emotional cost), there’s nothing to celebrate. While watching the movie, I was tremendously absorbed in the specific actions of the characters and their consequences, and less so on the setting of the film. Considering those actions after the fact in their larger context really adds to the power that the movie has. But good Lord I will never watch that movie again. They show a goddamn fetus! It’s gross! Ughhhhh.