Sometimes simple, ordinary life can be more terrifying than any horror or suspense film – especially if you’re living under a dictatorship that seeks to manipulate the personal lives of its citizens. Christian Mungiu’s remarkable film won the top prize at Cannes and multiple critic’s prizes, wowed international audiences and created a small uproar when the Academy failed to shortlist it for the Foreign Language Oscar, and it’s obvious why. While “4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days” only alludes to the extreme Cold War-era anti-contraception and anti-abortion policies of ultra-Stalinist Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, the film details with bird’s eye view directness its destructive consequences on two college students (Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu), when one becomes pregnant and they circumnavigate the emotionally and physically dangerous road to an abortion before Ceauşescu’s bloody 1989 downfall.
Using very long takes and no music at all, Mungius’ film draws the viewer in with the simplest and most relatable of situations and the purest filmic minimalism, milking suspense and something like abject terror via convincing, seemingly banal dialogue, and remarkably low-key performances from its two young female stars alongside an astonishingly believable ensemble cast. Generating unbearable tension and suspense from a situation which feels utterly real, this is not necessarily a film for everyone and it’s not necessarily always easy to watch for any of us. Still, once you start watching it you’ll have a hard time stopping. Nothing here plays out as expected and few films in recent years have generated such tension from the mundane details of life in a political and social pressure cooker, which, it turns out, has more in common with life here in the mostly free world than any of us would like to think.