There may not be enough films yet to constitute a trend, but the recent flowering of Romanian cinema—courtesy of the coal-black comedies The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East Of Bucharest, and the gripping abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days—points to a common sensibility, a devotion to low-down, real-time grittiness in addressing political turmoil. Through very simple crises, like getting an old man the medical attention he desperately needs, or two women seeking a dangerous black-market abortion, these films naturally reveal the anxieties that come with living in a repressive, dysfunctional society. By making the personal political, 4 Months doesn't necessarily address abortion so much as what it was like to live under the Ceausescu regime, especially for women, who here catch the brunt of its abuses.
Though the film takes place during the dying days of Communist rule, a palpable sense of paranoia and oppression hangs over the action. (It's the first in a series that director Cristian Mungiu has ironically dubbed Tales From The Golden Age.) Much of the tension belongs to the extraordinary Anamaria Marinca, who stars as a resourceful young woman tasked with helping her sheepish roommate (Laura Vasiliu) get an abortion. After scraping together some money and making arrangements for a hotel room—in two of the many stomach-churning hassles to come— Marinca meets with an underground abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) who isn't terribly eager to accommodate them. When the three finally get back to the room, the money turns out not to be sufficient to motivate Ivanov to perform the operation, and the women have to make some desperate choices to make it happen.
4 Months unfolds like one of those street-level Dardenne brothers movies (Rosetta, L'Enfant), especially once Marinca has to hustle to secure the hotel or satisfy her self-centered boyfriend's request to attend his mother's birthday party. But just as often, Mungiu keeps the camera running for much longer than other directors would, usually in tight, constricting spaces where the audience can feel the characters' anxiety deepening. A long take at the party, viewed out of context, would seem like dull and indulgent dinner conversation between a table filled with bourgeois drones. But here, the audience can see Marinca's mounting panic about what could be happening elsewhere, and the scene has a suffocating intensity that's not easy to shake. Ditto the rest of the film, which, in the process of dealing with the issues of reproductive rights, captures the tenor of a particular era with uncanny force.