Gripping and rigorous, the Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days follows a timid pregnant student, Dragut, and her friend Gabita on their hotel-room visit with an underground abortionist. But far beyond recounting a scary tale from the dark times of the Soviet bloc, the 80s-set film yields a superbly acted character study and a nuanced look at the way gender plays out in moments both ordinary and extreme.
4 Months opens in indeterminately institutional surroundings, the dormitory of the two young women and site of friendly black-market swaps of cigarettes and cosmetics. Gabita, who selflessly aids her quintessentially unprepared and avoidant friend, emerges as the film’s center. Anamaria Marinca’s attuned performance only deepens with each phase of the story, down to a relentless meet-the-parents dinner party that effectively seats us at the table across from her.
Like his countrymen Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) and Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest), director Cristian Mungiu favors long but humane takes and elongated but purposeful scenes, yet he sharpens the rhetoric through pointed framing and a contrasting blacked-out flight into streets at nighttime. In its social concerns, much-lauded “honesty,” and formal unity, this developing Romanian style poses a compelling, flip-side alternative to the nigh-canonized work of the Dardenne Brothers.
The movie, which spans a single day and night, maintains its power with a second viewing, drawing you in further. It’s secure enough in its intentions to render the bullying abortionist and his perverse codes an understandable product of society, and to tuck a joke about marriage into the background of another scene.