Friday, February 22, 2008

Juno, Romanian Style

I went to see the Romanian flick 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days before if vanished from the local cinema. I didn't take The Boy. He already hates commies and like Das leben der anderen, this film isn't going to enamor anyone of communist regimes.

This is not a movie for everyone, as I'm fond of saying, because it's an ugly story and it's paced like a Kubrick movie, without the long tracking shots. Think Schultze Gets The Blues, only devoid of humor and life. And, actually, Schulze sets up a shot and the characters move through it, but in this film, the camera sits there and the central characters barely move at all.

The premise of the movie is simple (and if you want to go in blind, you shouldn't read this): It's 1987 Romania and college1 student Gabita is pregnant. She uses her roommate to help her get an abortion. This results in unexpected costs. and nearly two solid hours of bleak despair.

The director is remorseless in this regard. The movie--the events of the movie--could be cut down to 40 minutes easily. There are long shots where no one talks and very little happens. This heigtens the uneasiness, the awkwardness, and the general discomfort--but also made it hard for me to stay awake during the climactic scenes.

Actually, the movie this reminds me the most of is Caché, even though that movie is a metaphor disguised as literal events, where this movie is a very literal series of events which could be seen as a metaphor. But Caché has the trappings of a mystery, which it isn't, and if you watch it that way, you'll be bored. This movie incorporates a lot of the elements of a thriller, but never carries through (and would be an entirely different, and less real, film if it did). You might still be bored, depending on how much you appreciate the restrained, tense acting that is center stage for most of the film.

It's really a treatise on the banality of evil. The characters are trapped in this oppressive state, where corruption is so integral to every day life (black markets, bribery, surveillance), that the only time Otilia (the main character) seems awakened to what they're actually doing, is when she must confront (and dispose of) the evidence.

Like Juno, Mar ardento, and other movies that handle controversial topics well, a commendable thing about this film is that it doesn't take a side and beat you to death with it. You could argue that it's pro-choice, for example, especially given the passing reference to the young women's periods being monitored by the dorm mother. On the other hand, it offers no romanticization of it. It's clearly anti-oppression and anti-corruption, but those are hardly controversial points.

But it's a disturbing film, and slow, and contains a particularly shocking scene. This makes it hard to recommend.

1. Forgive the imprecision. She's at a school, she's college age. I don't know if they called them universities, or polytechnics or what.


  1. Though I can't say 100 % certain about Romania in general, the most common central and eastern european practice seems to be as follows:

    university : liberal arts, social and pure sciences

    polytechnic : engineering

    agriculture and medicine (and economics) may be part of a regular university or be on their own.

    fine arts are usually separate institutions.

  2. Yeah...I don't know if the "college student" thing is technically accurate....


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