Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu details a squalid quest for an illegal abortion in the final years of the Ceausescu regime, and discloses, in passing, a good deal about a way of life, and in particular about the foundation stone of the black market. Altogether a strong film, in the mode of rub-your-nose-in-it naturalism, availing itself of the aesthetic precepts selectively followed by the Danish Dogmatists, the Iranian Kiarostami, the Belgian Dardenne brothers, among others. Boiled down to a basic checklist: a humanoid camera, handheld and foot-propelled; a bias towards the “integrity” of long takes, whether static or kinetic; an observance of one or more of the classical unities (the action here lasts less than a day); location-shooting only, in “natural” light (a resultant greeny-gray overcast); no special effects; no background music. 4 Months toes the line, makes no missteps, and it holds interest if it doesn’t quite stir excitement. The entire cast, helped perhaps by the unfamiliarity of its faces and its tongue, closely guards the illusion of reality. But Vlad Ivanov, helped most definitely by the natural dominance of his role as the outcall abortionist, unflaggingly stern yet unpredictably patient, is the clear standout. Nondescript in his physical features, casually attired in black leather jacket, striped sweater, and blue jeans, he manages to be intimidating, manipulating, and ultimately abusing without ever looming larger than life, a mundane villain. Although the film, like Vera Drake a few years earlier, doesn’t debate the rights and wrongs of abortion (just another of the facts of life), it has something for both sides of the argument. It has, on one side, again like Vera Drake, a hazardous backstairs modus vivendi for which no one could be nostalgic and to which no one would choose to return. And on the other side it has, in a towel on the bathroom floor, an unmistakably human fetus whose exact age is told in the title, and only there. (The expectant mother is prone to waffle.) The rights and wrongs of it can’t be properly debated till we’ve clarified what “it” is. The fetus, as “real” as everything else in the film, makes it clear. Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu. (2007) — Duncan Shepherd
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