Tuesday, July 9, 2013

formative films - 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days.

when I graduated from college and began working at hdnet films full-time in mid-2007, the talk of the cannes film festival was a small, low-budget romanian film featuring a cast of unknown actors called 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days - and it went on to win the palme d'or.

I couldn't wait to see it based on early buzz, and when it got american distribution via IFC, I was ecstatic. at hdnet, we tried our best to be on the cutting edge of filmt via concept, production, and distribution. but here was a film that straddled the line - on one (old fashioned) hand, it was shot on 35mm film and made the rounds at festivals in order to secure foreign distribution. on the other (newer) hand, it was done on a shoestring budget using a cast of unknown actors and featured agonizingly long, experimental shots.

as evidenced by winning the palme d'or, the incredible work of cristian mungiu and his team paid off with a film that is simply stunning in every way. it's heartbreaking, anxiety-ridden, and tragic - often all in the same shot. the camera work, acting, and direction are all incredible technical feats, but thankfully they're backed by an equally intelligent, timely, and well-told story that still resounds today.

and if I had to choose, I'd say it's one of, if not the, best film of the last decade.

technically, the entire film is astounding. nearly every shot is a long, extended take, some of which go on for more than eight minutes without a single cut. there are occasional moving shots but generally the camera is very inactive, almost a passive observer to the hardships the girls are struggling to comprehend and triumph over. there are no extreme close-ups, no fast edits, no action scenes. just observation and dialogue - absolutely expert dialogue.

and as the compelling story, pitch-perfect dialogue, and honest performances coalesce, you forget about the long takes. you forget that you're even watching a movie.

the whole film is so entrancing that not only is it easy to forget that you're watching a film, it's even easier to forget that the place is romania, and the time is early 1987. based on the cursory research I've done, this point in time is generally regarded as the worst, most oppressive time in romania's time as a socialist nation. infrastructures were crumbling, food was rationed, and the police force had frightening levels of power. of course, the revolution of 1989 would bring an end to nicolae ceauşescu's reign, but during the time in which the film is set, there's barely been a hint of the upheaval to come. civil liberties have been slowly stripped away over the years and with no end in sight, people are desperate.

while the characters' own desperation to get the abortion can be looked at as a history lesson and parable to the romanian people's desperation to get rid of their socialist government, we can also look at the film through a slightly different lens and see a startling omen of what the future could hold for not just america, but any country around the globe.

instead of tale from the past, what if we look at this film as a document from the future? a future where the government of any country, america included, takes too much power and implements too many policies to police the actions of its' people. society crumbles and despite an upper class that continues to prosper, the reality for the vast, vast majority is a daily struggle to survive.

a reality where medical procedures that require sterile instruments, sterile surroundings, and trustworthy doctors are relegated to cheap hotel rooms, performed with dirty instruments, and patients that are taken advantage of in the worst ways possible.

that's one terrifying reality.

but the point mungiu makes is that whether or not you're in favor of abortion, it's always going to happen. a government making something illegal doesn't stop the flow of that thing through society; it merely drives it underground and into the hands of less-than-upstanding individuals who end up using and often hurting people. another important point the film makes is that when it comes to a hard issue like abortion, people are happy to preach about how wrong it is until they're the ones in need, then suddenly it becomes acceptable. and it's precisely this type of hypocrisy that needs to be kept in check and balances against the realities of the world in which we all live.

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is a perfect example of an incredible writer/director starting with one strenuous day in the lives of two girls in socialist romania and transforming that simple story into something that can speak to anyone, from any time, in any part of the world. it's so complex and powerful that it just boggles my mind and any artist able to elicit even one-tenth of the emotion that this film does should consider him- or herself to be as successful as any artist could ever imagine.

it's just that good.

(buy the dvd from amazon.)

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