CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Sunday, March 30, 2008

4 Shots, 3 Locations and 2 Reasons to Watch This Movie

Do I have to turn in my movie blog by saying that I wasn't completely won over by 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days? The film certainly had its moments, but for a subject that should be so viscerally emotional, I felt the film was far too cerebral in its execution for a subject like this. Now that I have mentioned my big gripe with the film, I will say that I would recommend this film to anyone. The second half of the film makes up for the detachment of the first half with some wonderfully intense moments. What's even more amazing is that the intensity stems not from the action on screen, but from Cristian Mungiu's presentation.

This is best signified by the now well known shot that sits still focusing on Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as she sits at her boyfriend's mother's birthday party. As conversation continues on general inanities, the camera remains fixed on Otilia worrying about the fate of her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who is currently undergoing an abortion. The camera traps us in this uncomfortable space with Otilia, and the result is as mesmerizing as it is unbearable. This shot is one of four distinct shots that show how 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days succeeds so greatly in its second half.

The second shot takes place back in the hotel where Otilia got a room for Gabita to have the abortion. We learn shortly after Otilia arrives from her boyfriend's house that the abortion is complete. Cut to a static shot of the fetus sitting in the bathroom on a towel. We can still here the conversation going on in the main room, but our view does not change. This shot pushes the film into dangerous territory by actually presenting us with that one thing we never see. The intellectual horror of the previously mentioned shot turns into a much more visceral repulsion. This is what was outlawed, and this is what Gabita and Otilia risked so much for. Is it right? I cannot comment on that. I was too busy being astonished by the sheer audacity to show that. I should also point out that the point of view is not detached from a normal person's perspective looking down on a small bloody mess. No, Mungiu doesn't want the audience to get away so easily. He places the camera at floor level giving the fetus its big close-up. The image is immediate and still makes me shudder.

Where the first two of these four shots were very specifically static, the third one is as kinetic (maybe more so) than images from the Bourne Trilogy. Otilia has been tasked with disposing of the fetus (that poor girl has to do everything, doesn't she), and she takes to the streets at night to find an appropriate place to get rid of this little bundle. As she runs through the darkened streets, the cameraman runs with her. This isn't a particularly new thought in the film (the cameraman walks along with Otilia earlier, and we see the shakiness there), but, as before, the intensity is ratcheted up to a whole other level. Now the cameraman is running and can barely control the camera. If the shot had taken place during the day I might have been sick to my stomach. As it is, the darkness saves the shot by shaking black figures against a black background. We are left with the sounds of Otilia panting as she runs around desperately trying to get rid of this fetus. Coming so soon after we witness the fetus, it is necessary that we barely make out the images on the screen, lest someone get sick. The lack of light allows Mungiu to convey just how intense the situation is without making us queasy, which is just what he needs to do.

The fourth shot, the final one of the film, was, at least to me, the most impressive. The ordeal is done; Gabita no longer is pregnant, and Otilia has disposed of the evidence. There is nothing more to do than grab a meal at the restaurant in the lobby of the hotel. As they settle into their seats, they do not speak a word to one another. The waiter comes with specialty menus, since there is a party going on in the other room of the hotel and this is all the kitchen has. Neither Gabita nor Otilia is in a position to complain, and so the camera settles in to watch them from a distance. What originally seems another static shot quickly reveals itself to be slowly pulling away from them. An odd little light appears on the right side of the screen. Slowly more lights begin to appear on the screen and ambient noise of the street rises on the soundtrack. By now it is apparent that the camera is looking from outside the restaurant window. Their story is over. The rest of the world is surrounding us, if only we will look. Otilia turns her head slightly to the left, and she looks straight at the camera. Her face shows the disgust of a woman who had to go through hell, and she is focusing that anger at the viewer. This is the first moment that the fourth wall has been broken, and its impact is immediately felt. In fact, nothing else can be felt, as that is the last image of the film. This shot simultaneously announces the film as a pro-choice film (at least that's how I read it. Who are you to tell that woman she cannot do what she thinks is best for her body?) and ends the film on a perfect note. For all of the film that preceded this moment, Mungiu has tried to make us uncomfortable by putting us in Otilia's place. With this final shot, he makes us uncomfortable by removing us from Otilia's place. We are a part of the rest of the world, and we have to deal with that.

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