Forthcoming: 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

The scuttlebutt on Criterion, Eclipse, and Janus Films. Lists and polls are STRONGLY discouraged.
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Len
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Forthcoming: 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

#1 Post by Len » Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:42 am

Didn't notice a thread about this, so I figure someone ought to make one.

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This year's Palme D'Or winner.
The film follows the story of Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), two university friends in Bucharest, Romania. The film is set in 1987, one of the last years of the Ceausescu regime. When Gabita falls pregnant, the two girls arrange a meeting with Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) in a cheap hotel, where he is to perform an illegal abortion.
Minor spoilers:
A tremendous film. It seems very rigid at first, faithfully following the characters with little in the way of cuts, which for a short while, took me out of the film and made me pay way too much attention on the form of the film. However, as the despair of the situation at hand started to unfold, the film drew me in like few others have managed to this year. I must applaud Mungiu for his restraint, as I've rarely seen minimalism in work this well. There's not a single moment in the film where he allows the form of the film to take over the story and the characters.

I generally dislike describing acting as good (calling someone a bad actor is much easier), but very few words describe the cast as well. Everyone in this is just really, really good. Anamaria Marinca especially was a revelation, as she basically carries the entire film. She's in just about every single shot and one finds it really difficult to look away from her. There's a lengthy scene set at a dinner table, where amongst the drunken ramblings of her fiance's relatives, she finds herself totally isolated. She doesn't have to say anything, but the viewer understands perfectly what she's going thru. She's surrounded by people, but they don't even seem to exist in the same universe or reality as she does.

One must also praise the performance of Vlad Ivanov, who in Mr.Bebe creates a person who's terrifying in his contradictions and simultaneously captivating in the way he wears his soft spoken menace on his sleeve. Ivanov never goes too far with the character, firmly grounding him in reality, which makes him all the more terrifying as the price of his services is revealed almost nonchalantly. He's a complex character who clearly does not see himself as evil, but merely one who sees it ok to benefit from his position.

I feel myself at a loss of words adequately praising the film, but hopefully someone here will do a better job at it. Highly recommended.

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#2 Post by Cde. » Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:43 pm

Len wrote: It seems very rigid at first, faithfully following the characters with little in the way of cuts, which for a short while, took me out of the film and made me pay way too much attention on the form of the film. However, as the despair of the situation at hand started to unfold, the film drew me in like few others have managed to this year. I must applaud Mungiu for his restraint, as I've rarely seen minimalism in work this well. There's not a single moment in the film where he allows the form of the film to take over the story and the characters.

While I found the formalism appropriate to the subject matter in its directness (and at times incredibly effective, such as (spoilers follow) in the aforementioned suffocating dinner party table scene, as well as in the nighttime walk with the fetus to the rooftop, which is one of the most intense and powerful scenes I have witnessed in a cinema this year) I still found myself periodically drawn out of the film. I also had this problem with the similarly adored Children of Men, which also employs trendy handheld-verite aesthetics (though make no mistake, this is a far better film). I also feel that it's possible that Mungiu put too much emphasis on the shot style and not enough on the other elements of his film, as when the film was over I thought that the universe built up by the film was not well defined enough for me to believe in the lives of the characters outside of the limited timeframe and linear pathway that the film follows. I can't really put my finger on how this could have been imporved, as I'm not too great a critic. Perhaps the extended takes were too polished, lacking that spark that exists in the best films that makes a scene feel alive.

I still enjoyed the film a great deal, despite my problems with it. I saw it a few months ago, and several things stand out very clearly, such as the absolutely masterfully deployed red herring of Otilia searching through Mr. Bebe's briefcase before hearing him returning to the room and swiping a pocket knife(!). It adds so much to the tension of the scene and suggests a lot about the character dynamics yet is conveyed very simply and non-explicitly.

I thought this was one of the most interesting horror films of recent years (I saw it at about the same time as INLAND EMPIRE, another great unconventional horror film) and it would easily make my top 10 of the year. The performances were suitably dedicated and highly convincing, and the atmosphere and texture of some scenes were remarkably well constructed.

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#3 Post by rs98762001 » Sat Jan 26, 2008 3:25 pm

I'm surprised there isn't more written here about this film, especially considering other, lesser works have 10-15 pages worth of discussion. Is it that it hasn't got a wide enough release, or just that people imagine it's a slow, grim slog?

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#4 Post by jesus the mexican boi » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:16 pm

rs98762001 wrote:I'm surprised there isn't more written here about this film, especially considering other, lesser works have 10-15 pages worth of discussion. Is it that it hasn't got a wide enough release, or just that people imagine it's a slow, grim slog?
Not a wide enough release. This is the kind of film, I think, that will find a much more receptive audience on DVD. The only people I know who have seen the movie (and raved about it) are in NYC -- so limited release/availability is a big part of the problem.

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#5 Post by david hare » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:36 pm

Interestingly this got a short release in Oz past year after playing the SFF in June to some acclaim but nobody went to see it, I think the season petered out after a couple of weeks. THere should be a local DVD however quite soon.

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#6 Post by Jeff » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:40 pm

It played a number of regional festivals last year and opened on two screens today (NY and LA, I assume). It goes wider on February 1, but I wouldn't count on it playing many cities as IFC is distributing through their "First Take" group. That also means though, that those with OnDemand can order it up right now for $6.99.

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#7 Post by Dylan » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:56 pm

It hasn't played in Seattle yet, that's for sure.

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#8 Post by jbeall » Sat Jan 26, 2008 6:35 pm

The NY Times review is pretty glowing:
In “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” a ferocious, unsentimental, often brilliantly directed film about a young woman who helps a friend secure an abortion, the camera doesn’t follow the action, it expresses consciousness itself. This consciousness — alert to the world and insistently alive — is embodied by a young university student who, one wintry day in the late 1980s, helps her roommate with an abortion in Ceausescu’s Romania when such procedures were illegal, not uncommon and too often fatal. It’s a pitiless, violent story that in its telling becomes a haunting and haunted intellectual and aesthetic achievement.

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#9 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sat Jan 26, 2008 7:00 pm

Very good film.

I have a number of questions, with 4, 3, 2 being minor spoilers (really):

1) So why was this film snubbed by the Academy, not even making the preliminary list of 9?

Is it that abortion is too controversial for America? Or the presentation of what life was like in Romania when abortion was outlawed was seen as too political or something?
It's a powerful film, that really packs a punch.
Seems a strange and unexplained oversight.

2) What about the precision of the title?
In the film, there seems to be some uncertainty and intentional obscurity over the date of conception. We never hear about any specific night of fun, as in Waitress. I like the title, but the specificity seemed strange and out of place when I thought about it?

3) Someone above mentioned the pocketknife as a red herring ... while noting how that adds tension to the scene. But what about the abortionist not retrieving his ID from the hotel desk? That seemed dangerous and unlikely. Unless he had used a false ID, which is possible, but such preparation wouldn't have been necessary as he had expected to go to one of the hotels he had specified which wouldn't ask for and hold a visitor's ID.

4) uh-oh, distracted by allergies, an actual covering of snow in Shanghai, and an insane cat, I've completely blanked on #4. Will edit it in later.

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#10 Post by tavernier » Sat Jan 26, 2008 11:31 pm

Armond gets crazier every week, as he proves in this nugget from his positive review of How She Move:
How She Move achieves a sense of female camaraderie and sacrifice that puts the pseudo-sisterhood of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’s abortion-seekers to shame. Thank God for Pop Cinema.
In his 4, 3, 2 review, he sets a new record for name-dropping (and film-dropping and song-dropping):
What’s wrong with Romanian movies? No recent foreign film has been more hyped than 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, cutely dubbed 4,3,2 by Artforum. Yet there’s nothing cute about this story of two college girls seeking to meet a back-alley abortionist in Bucharest during Romania’s late 1990s Ceausescu era. 4,3,2 trudges through the dire tale as if, indeed, counting down to something momentous. It’s momentously drab, obvious and guilt-inducing. Director Cristian Mungiu’s big revelation is that abortion—like life under Ceausescu—is no fun. But neither is this film: another mystifyingly over-praised entry in what’s being sold as the Romanian New Wave.

Not since the Iranian movie fad of the 1990s has a national cinema so intimidated American film critics. But there was something real in the experiments Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami posed with narrative, time, landscape and destiny. This Romanian fad is based on Liberal self-reproach; a hangover from what Susan Sontag criticized as Americans’ “triumphalist national self-regard.” Following the trends of European film festivals, critics distance themselves from popular taste and parade their political contrition—as if praising movies from a formerly repressed country apologized for the United State’s failure to intervene. Thus, the typical grimness of Romanian imports like 4,3,2, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest gets touted as superior to regular art-movie fare.

Consider the basic deception: That today’s Romanian filmmakers have reinvented “realism.” This is far different than the Iranians’ sophisticated play with self-reflexive storytelling (such as Makhmalbaf’s great Salaam Cinema and A Moment of Innocence which condensed cultural history and social desperation into funny, tender and frightening sagas of local filmmaking practice). The Romanians pretend cultural impoverishment necessitated that they reinvent the wheel, and this impresses gullible critics who apparently never saw Rossellini’s Open City or John Cassavetes’ Shadows. But the Roumanians’ tedious long-takes, dour emphasis on “real time,” Dogma-derived denial of refined lighting and visual pleasure are deplorable scams. Mungiu’s conceits, shared with his peers Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiul, disturbingly suggest that cineastes have inherited Ceausescu’s fascistic egotism: Their movies make audiences suffer as they claim to have suffered.

Mungiu stages real-time scenes—hence 4,3,2’s quotidian title—offering the usual Romanian movie roundelay of bureaucratic bickering, near-impoverished living and unrelievedly glum characters. 4,3,2’s particular expose, no livelier than the rest, is especially canny in distinguishing itself as Abortion Noir: Bedraggled Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) helps her irresponsible dorm mate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) obtain the procedure that Ceausescu’s regime outlawed. Their efforts are less suspenseful than tedious, but it pushes all the Left buttons. Even the hostile abortionist Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) is a stock villain. Yet, not even Snidely Whiplash silent movie curs got laid as part of their extortion schemes: When Otilia and Gabita come up short of his required fee and Mr. Bebe insists on sexing them both—and the girls agree—it’s undeniable that 4,3,2 is bullcrap.

We’re not expected to ponder the girls’ masochism because Mungiu elides the act of self-prostitution (which Artforum’s critic defends as “violation;” though how can there be violation with consent?). Still, by showing only the naked-muff aftermath, Mungiu accepts how Otilia and Gabita debase themselves into docility, stupidity, selfishness and crime. It fits the degraded sense of humanity that is now widely preferred in film culture. Mungiu’s theme: THERE WILL BE ABORTION!

That’s because Mungiu reduces “freedom” to the abortion politics. Otilia and Gabita’s characterizations are flimsier than even Juno (the professional hipster’s update of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”). These girls misuse their late-20th century feminist privilege by being biologically irresponsible and socially manipulative. Mungiu has not created a portrait of female oppression—a failing that becomes apparent when Otilia traipses through Bucharest at night looking to discard the aborted fetus. Her plight’s less interestingly than the Isela Vega character in Sam Peckinpah’s 1974 Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia who sacrifices herself to that film’s bloody corpus burden. Critic Dennis Delrough suggested that Mungiu’s fetus is a bogus social/psychological fact compared to the head of Alfredo Garcia, but Mungiu’s U.S. dupes imagine that the fetus represents something profound. If Artforum can consider a fetus “not yet viable,” than a filmmaker who justifies Otilia and Gabita’s self-serving behavior should be seen as barbarous.

By strange coincidence, one of the strongest political pop albums made during the Ceausescu period was the British band The Fatima Mansions’ 1990 Viva Dead Ponies featuring the coruscating anti-fascist anthems “Blues for Ceausescu” and “Mr. Baby.” Singer-songwriter Cathal Coughlin posed “Mr. Baby” as a Ceausescu figure threatening all with his selfish, murderous vanity. 4,3,2’s abortionist-thug Mr. Bebe references that rock-and-roll rhetoric even though Mungiu’s techniques pretend to be artless. He shrewdly avoids scrutinizing Mr. Bebe too closely and so loses Coughlin’s complex personality sketch and overall vigor. Viva Dead Ponies was made for dancing and thinking; 4,3,2 merely prides viewers on feeling blue.

Remember how the Sex Pistols’ “Bodies” refused to sanction abortion as a social privilege, but scorned it as horrific, inhumane, a moral burden? Remember Mike Leigh’s 2004 Vera Drake distilling the abortion question into the rich aesthetic inquiry of Imelda Staunton’s hyper-clear close-up? Next to those pop landmarks, 4,3,2’s “realism” is insipid. It’s a throwback to the naivete of nascent feminism (Otilia stays angry at her sympathetic boyfriend) and lacks the emotional stability of such pre-feminist abortion films as Love with the Proper Stranger or The L-Shaped Room. By sentimentalizing Otilia and Gabita’s ignorant choices, Mungiu insults reality. For those who believe in abortion, Otilia and Gabita’s behavior needs no explanation; for those who don’t, none is offered. When a Romanian film is as obtuse as 4,3,2, it feels like a countdown to cinema’s termination.
Last edited by tavernier on Sat Jan 26, 2008 11:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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#11 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 26, 2008 11:34 pm

Armond White appears to be on a desperate quest to become less-relevant than Rex Reed.

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#12 Post by david hare » Sun Jan 27, 2008 12:49 am

He surely reminds you why abortion is so necessary.

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#13 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sun Jan 27, 2008 6:31 am

Dargis gives it 4.32 stars (okay, really 4.5)

And maybe this has been posted elsewhere, but here's a good primer on the new waves rippling out from Romanian cinema, from AO Scott.

That Armond review contains spoilers.
Since many people haven't seen the film yet, I'd suggest you edit in a spoiler alert.


Armond's review is far too steeped in the highly partisan American abortion debate to even notice the film itself.
The line "Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) is a stock villain" is as far off as can be.
As is: "Director Cristian Mungiu’s big revelation is that abortion—like life under Ceausescu—is no fun."

**SPOILER ALERT**
When Mr. Bebe gets up to go the the bathroom, you figure that he just needs to go, and also is giving the young women a chance to talk and make a decision. But later thinking back, I realized that Mr. Bebe is probably also preparing himself, emptying his bladder so that he's ready for action. It's a bit of a confident and sinister play by the abortion guy.
I really liked 4, 3, 2.
But I think I prefer The Paper Will Be Blue.
Need to check if that has its own thread.

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#14 Post by Don Lope de Aguirre » Sun Jan 27, 2008 8:01 am

This Armond White guy is just too, too stupid... it's breathtaking!
Consider the basic deception: That today’s Romanian filmmakers have reinvented “realism.” ... The Romanians pretend cultural impoverishment necessitated that they reinvent the wheel, and this impresses gullible critics who apparently never saw Rossellini’s Open City or John Cassavetes’ Shadows.
Who says that the Romanians have reinvented realism and why would seeing Open City lessen your appreciation of the Mungiu film? Has he too forgotten that the French played with self-reflexive storytelling 40 years before the Iranians? Does it really matter who did it first? Can he really not see the brilliance of the cinematography? I thought that that this was a sound lesson to Mike Leigh could not have gone unnoticed by anyone but I was sadly mistaken.

I could criticize virtually every single line of his review. It is full of moot points, nonsense and astonishing ignorance. I simply do not have the energy to respond in full but I think the following quote speaks for itself:
We’re not expected to ponder the girls’ masochism because Mungiu elides the act of self-prostitution (which Artforum’s critic defends as “violation;” though how can there be violation with consent?)

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#15 Post by MichaelB » Sun Jan 27, 2008 8:38 am

davidhare wrote:Interestingly this got a short release in Oz past year after playing the SFF in June to some acclaim but nobody went to see it.
I saw it at the 9pm show at Brighton's Duke of York's cinema, on the Sunday after it opened to ecstatic five-star raves across the board - and high-profile raves at that: most broadsheet critics led on it, and their pieces were accompanied by interviews with Cristian Mungiu and his star Anamaria Marinca, gushing articles about how Romanian cinema was currently where it's at, the works.

I'd say the cinema was about a quarter full. At most.

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#16 Post by portnoy » Sun Jan 27, 2008 12:25 pm

That 4-3-2 review is perhaps the greatest proof of all that Armond isn't even bothering to evaluate the films at this point - he prejudges other critics' reviews as well as the general subject matter and doesn't even both to acknowledge the films themselves. The sort of idiot who can find the extraordinarily coordinated, beautifully lit camerawork in 4-3-2 as a denial of refined lighting or visual pleasure clearly wasn't looking. Ditto someone who finds a message of 'sisterhood' in 4-3-2. What a fucking idiot.

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#17 Post by jbeall » Sun Jan 27, 2008 1:11 pm

portnoy wrote:That 4-3-2 review is perhaps the greatest proof of all that Armond isn't even bothering to evaluate the films at this point - he prejudges other critics' reviews as well as the general subject matter and doesn't even both to acknowledge the films themselves. The sort of idiot who can find the extraordinarily coordinated, beautifully lit camerawork in 4-3-2 as a denial of refined lighting or visual pleasure clearly wasn't looking. Ditto someone who finds a message of 'sisterhood' in 4-3-2. What a fucking idiot.
Spot-on. You should revise his wikipedia entry.

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#18 Post by rs98762001 » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:44 pm

I guess White's typically numbskulled piece and the general prevalence of empty cinemas for 4-3-2 shows that, in this day and age, it's still difficult to make a film with abortion as its subject and have it be accepted as a "film" rather than an "abortion film." Which is a shame, because it's about so much more than a single issue - deeper, richer and more accessible than its tag would suggest.

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#19 Post by chaddoli » Sun Jan 27, 2008 4:05 pm

rs98762001 wrote:the general prevalence of empty cinemas for 4-3-2

The film was sold out at the afternoon showing I went to yesterday. (So was Still Life). The IFC Center is quickly becoming one of the most important and successful in New York City.

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#20 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sun Jan 27, 2008 5:03 pm

chaddoli wrote:
rs98762001 wrote:the general prevalence of empty cinemas for 4-3-2

The film was sold out at the afternoon showing I went to yesterday. (So was Still Life). The IFC Center is quickly becoming one of the most important and successful in New York City.
That's great ... if it wasn't for the fact that IFC is owned by Cablevision and controlled by the Dolans who have left the Knicks lying face down and bleeding on 33rd St. just where the sidewalk ends.

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#21 Post by lady wakasa » Sun Jan 27, 2008 5:38 pm

Am definitely planning to see this - just got sidetracked by a bedroom disassembling triggered by a visit to the allergist. %^<

I even have an IFC membership - time to use it.

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#22 Post by "membrillo" » Sun Jan 27, 2008 6:08 pm

I saw this Friday and loved it. Im planning on watching it again next week. Id have to say Don Bebe was one of the most disturbingly interesting characters Ive seen on screen all year.

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#23 Post by foggy eyes » Tue Jan 29, 2008 8:01 am

MichaelB wrote:I'd say the cinema was about a quarter full. At most.
That's certainly better than the two other people who saw it at Curzon Soho on Friday last week (despite rather excellent press coverage here in the UK). Absolutely terrific film all the same - Mungiu's extremely bold and uncompromising long take style is like a sustained kick in the teeth, and the performances are note-perfect. A far more rigorous exercise than the wonderfully shambolic Lazarescu, and all the better for it.

Armond White's review is utterly insane.

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#24 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Wed Jan 30, 2008 6:29 am

foggy eyes wrote:
MichaelB wrote:I'd say the cinema was about a quarter full. At most.
That's certainly better than the two other people who saw it at Curzon Soho on Friday last week (despite rather excellent press coverage here in the UK). Absolutely terrific film all the same - Mungiu's extremely bold and uncompromising long take style is like a sustained kick in the teeth, and the performances are note-perfect. A far more rigorous exercise than the wonderfully shambolic Lazarescu, and all the better for it.

Armond White's review is utterly insane.
I saw it at the LFF in October and it was packed out. I imagine many of those interested who are London based would have also gone.

I thought it'd do pretty decent business though as it's been pretty heavily marketed. But it's easier to sell something like Amelie to those who wouldn't normally go to subtitled films than something always referred to as the "Romanian abortion film". Shame because it really is fantastic.

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#25 Post by david hare » Sat Feb 02, 2008 1:21 am

Screeners are out of the OZ dvd due next month and on one viewing I have to say this is a stunning movie! Once again White's reviews are an unintended guide in inverse proportion to the strengths of great, formally exciting movies! The man is like a pathetic cartoon of American subconscious repression.

Disc details here: I note the OLFC gives it an MA15 rating, not the R everyone expected.

POST EDIT: I was reading with amusement about the French General rating controversy. Which reminded me the last time we were in Paris Salo was showing again with an "over 12" rating. This truly is a civilized country!

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