The title of Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, also known as the acclaimed drama that didn't get nominated for this year's foreign-language Oscar, refers to the length of the pregnancy that college student Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) seeks to terminate in a midsize Romanian town circa 1987, when Nicolae Ceausescu is still in power and abortions are illegal. But the central character in Mungiu's masterfully crafted sophomore feature turns out to be Gabita's friend and roommate, Otilia (played by the brilliant Anamaria Marinca), who helps to coordinate the backroom procedure and ends up paying her own hefty physical and psychological price. Last fall, following the film's New York Film Festival premiere, I sat on a rock in Central Park with the 39-year-old director and his 29-year-old star to discuss the making of the film and its place in Romanian cinema's exciting new wave.
Scott Foundas: You've said that the film is based on a true story. Is it something that happened to someone you knew, or did you read about it in the news?
Cristian Mungiu: Yes, it was somebody that I knew. It was a person that was quite close to me, and I think I first heard the story about 15 years ago. There was nothing much to change about it. I checked later on, just to make sure this wasn't a very unusual story. I talked to lots of people, and I got a lot of very interesting stories. But finally I decided to just stick to my story, not only because it was personal but because this was the story I had heard directly, with all the emotions and surprises which this girl had and with a lot of details.
Anamaria, what was your reaction when you first read the script?
Anamaria Marinca: Because I didn't have the opportunity to meet Cristian before, my only means of knowing who he is was through his writing, and I trusted his artistic choices in the plot and how he structured the story. It was very, very interesting to me — especially his perspective, because it's not a classical plot where everything happens to the hero. I'm parallel to the story itself. I'm not the one having the abortion.
Since its premiere in Cannes, 4 Months has been dubbed "the Romanian abortion movie," but it seems that abortion is really the film's way into a much broader study of Communist-era Romania and the ways in which people adapt to living under such oppressive circumstances.
Mungiu: It didn't start from the idea of making a film about abortion. I hope that it speaks about this period and how people adapted, as you say. And I also hope it speaks about something that is not just connected with that period. For me, it's also a film about responsibilities and decision-making, and I think these are things which are very universal, and I believe that is why there is this sympathy for the film in lots of places. Even in places where people don't know much about what was going on in Romania, people still relate to this.
Tell me about your decision to shoot the film exclusively in long, unbroken camera setups, or "sequence shots," as they are sometimes called.
Mungiu: I decided this during the writing, and I wrote the script in such a way that this would be possible. But things are not that simple because you become like the prisoner of your own decision, and everything is shaped in connection with this, and you don't realize all the consequences of this kind of filmmaking when you decide this. For example, I needed actors who would be capable of sustaining the tension and remembering the text of such long scenes, which is not a simple thing to do. And it's not just about the text — they had to be present in the situation. I wanted to allow them to develop emotion in front of the camera and not be cutting every two seconds or moving in close. The most important part of all this was not to have us as filmmakers present in the film.
Marinca: For me, it was bliss because I come from the theater. I only just started playing in television, and this is my first feature film. So for me, the more I get to play in continuity, the better. Psychologically, that gives you somewhere to start from and to evolve. It gives you this pleasure of playing, whereas in most movies you have this shot-countershot approach that fragments everything you do. Each time, you have to re-create mentally the atmosphere, whereas here you just went for it.
This was the third consecutive year in which a Romanian film won a major prize in Cannes, and it has now become quite common for critics attending film festivals to say to each other, "Make sure to see the Romanian film." There has also been lots of talk about a Romanian "new wave" that includes you, Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest), and Radu Muntean (The Paper Will Be Blue). Why is all of this happening now?
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