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Romania, 1987, the brutal Ceausescu communist regime is in place; birth control is illegal and abortion is a crime punishable by death. Gabita (Laura Vasliu) is almost five months into an unwanted pregnancy and in meek desperation turns to her friend and roommate, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) for help in organizing an illegal termination. Unfortunate circumstances force the two women to use a male abortionist, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), who, in addition to an absurd amount of money, also demands sex with both women as payment. The bleakness of the storyline expresses a dark socio-political critique in the twilight years of a repressive dictatorship. Written by
Cristian Mungiu's film is the most successful in what is called the Romanian Cinama New Wave, although it's not the very best in my opinion. I liked more 'The Death of Dante Lazarescu', and even 'California Dreamin' (Nesfarsit') had better chances from start. And yet '4-3-2' succeeded better than other because it vibrates different chords in the viewers souls and on different planes. Women will resonate with the story of the imposed tragedy at a personal and national level resulted from the anti-abortion policies in Communist Romania, and one cannot say it's only a pro-choice movie, it's a real indictment. If one is interested in recent European history he may see the results of what communist propaganda named the Golden Age, an apocalyptic landscape of cold, dark and loneliness. If you are Romanian and lived these times you may feel you returned in time and the end of the movie may seem the awakening from a recurring nightmare.
And if you are a fan of good cinema you will admire the virtuosity of a director who learned perfectly the lessons of Jim Jarmusch and DOGMA and transfered them in the East European space. You need the hand of a master to create those those long shots in which every detail is in place, camera, actors, lights and voices. I see from time to time older Romanian movies where I observe not that much the lack of technical means in the 70s or 80s, but more the lack of capacity of the directors to compensate this disadvantages with simplicity of concept and turn them into quality as other directors from less privileged schools of cinema have done. Well, the last films of directors like Mungiu or the late Nemescu I could see a jump ahead in quality of expression that takes many generations for other film schools.
There are many memorable scenes in this film. One of them describes a family dinner, where the principal character, a student from a lesser means family arrives invited by her boyfriend. It's his mother's birthday, and they have as guests two couples of friends from the local mid-upper class. The scene is a nine minute shot with fixed camera, focusing on four characters sited at the head of the table, with a few others voices being heard from out of the screen space. She is in the middle, and obliged to listen and participate, but she wants to be some other place, near her friend who just underwent an illegal abortion. Every minute may be fatal for the life of her friend. The dialog is not meaningless, it is a short novella on its own about the art of compromise necessary for survival in a dictatorship. And yet, she is there and is not there - all looks like a Da Vinci painting, with Jesus sited among the apostles, but already in a different spiritual reality. Magnificent to follow as its character has its own life, its like a concatenation of first plans one near the other.
In another memorable scene Otilia runs in the night to get rid of the aborted child. It's one of these long and cold nights into which Romania was plunged at these times because of electricity savings. She runs on the streets scared, scared not that much by the shades of the night but by the proof of the 'crime' she is carrying and which can incriminate her for many years of jail if she is caught. Best horror scene of the year in my view.
Anamaria Marinca is superb in the role of Otilia. No mannerism, no melodrama, no make-up - the actress is just living the character of a girl ready to sacrifice everything to help her naive and maybe a little dumb friend. It is by this humanity of the simple people that dictatorship can be survived at the human level the film seems to say.
'4-3-2' is a candidate for the best foreign film at the Oscars, but I am afraid it will not get the prize. The film starts slowly and needs patience to get the sense, and many jurors may not get over the first third. The interest for East-European cinema is decreasing, it's not such a new thing any longer, and Romanian cinema is little known out of Europe. Anyway, Oscar or not, this film is simply good, and it demonstrates that the Romanian cinema passed the period of transition and it's time for maturity. It's now even harder, as Romanian directors will need to find the inspiration to make films that do not look that much into the past but still can catch the interest of the local and international audiences. It will be interesting to follow.
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