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Back Room Deals 

There's no such thing as being a little bit pregnant, but in this compact and intense drama from Romania, Gabita is a lot pregnant.

She also is meek and soft-spoken and enlists her best friend and college roommate Otilia to help her. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is more savvy about everything in life and better skilled at dealing with the black-market ways in which they meet their needs under the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. That includes everything from buying cigarettes and Tic Tacs in their dorm to arranging for an abortion, which was illegal under communism.

Director Christian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is gritty and gut-wrenching. It's also economical and fast-paced, taking place in the course of a single nerve-wracking day. Otilia is busy studying for her technical exams, agrees to meet her boyfriend's mother for the first time at her birthday party that evening and is also committed to supporting Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) through her ordeal. But nothing goes as planned, and Mungiu delivers an emotionally raw and riveting film that is ultimately about trust and friendship. The story revolves around the prospect of getting an abortion, but is not derailed by any messages or polemics. The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes (2007) as well as many other international and American film festival honors. It's in Romanian with English subtitles, which once the story begins is barely noticeable both because of the obvious tensions and plot twists and the utterly candid confrontations. Mungiu also displays brilliant sensitivity in the film's silent moments.

The historical context may be important to Mungiu but is not necessary to those unfamiliar with Romania. The film is set in 1987 during the end of Ceausescu's regime. The economy functioned but minimally so under communism. Black markets flourished for everything. The rudimentary economy couldn't meet the needs of the increase in the birth rate, and reproductive rights took on very political overtones. Even abortions were considered by some to be revolutionary acts. Ultimately, lack of legal abortions led to a huge spike in deaths from unclean and unprofessional backroom abortions.

Regardless of the greater politics, Gabita is pregnant and scared. Abortions are illegal, but there are more sinister elements of the police state to deal with as well. She's alone except for the help she's sought from Otilia. The prospective father is never seen or spoken of. Neither woman knows much about what an abortion entails — medically or financially — other than to have collected a few mysterious names from others who have had to resort to black-market health care. But fear of arrest keeps the proceedure and its providers shrouded in an underworld organized around both need and greed. Gabita has made a phone call and arranged to meet an abortionist in town, but the gravity of the situation hasn't fully set in. She frets about whether to bring her notes so she can study while waiting or afterwards.

Gabita has persuaded Otilia to handle some of the arrangements because she is afraid. Otilia sets out to the anonymous rendezvous with Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), who is cold and austere. She starts to feel the same strains of risk, vulnerability and isolation that beset Gabita. It carries over to her boyfriend's mother's birthday party later in the film. His family is well to do and the party is largely of an older generation. Otilia suddenly feels less secure in the world she knows. As tensions mount in the film, Mungiu's camera zeros in on tighter angles and cramped spaces. He crops out bodies and bobs agitatedly on Bebe's briefcase of mysterious tools.

When Otilia meets Bebe, she realizes he expected only Gabita. They go to a hotel, but it wasn't the one originally agreed upon. As the three talk, it becomes apparent that a lot isn't as it seemed. Gabita is farther along in her pregnancy than she said. The situation is more complicated now, the stakes are higher and the arrangements begin to fall apart. Ultimately, there is just so much one can ask a friend or stranger to do. But in such desperate straights, people can ask a lot, and that makes this film unforgettable.

click to enlarge Friends Gabita (Laura Vasiliu, right) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) meet with Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) to try to arrange for an abortion. - 2007 IFC FILMS
  • 2007 IFC Films
  • Friends Gabita (Laura Vasiliu, right) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) meet with Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) to try to arrange for an abortion.
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