4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile – Review

While the website said that they were showing 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile at Curzon Soho from today, it turns out that they aren’t after all. So I take the short tube ride on the Picadilly line to the Renoir in Russell Square.

The Renoir, I discover, is a decrepit old place and not in an artsy or charming sort of way. I am just over an hour early so I get the bitter £1.50 freetrade coffee and hang around in the empty “lounge” finishing off some “stuff”. When they open the screen 1 hall, there is another surprise – a pillar right in the middle of the hall, meaning the back few rows are practically useless, especially the middle aisle seats.

Patru Luni, my first movie of 2008, more than makes up for all that. It is the story of an extraordinary day in the life of Otilia, a polytechnic student living in a dorm in România of 1987. I have not seen Cristian Mungiu’s previous four movies, and judging by this one, I have missed out on some good cinema.

On one hand the movie is fascinating in that it provides a slight glimpse into what it might have been like to live in Ceauşescu’s România. While I am normally wary of learning about “other cultures” from movies, the “signs of the times” are a relatively safer pick. For instance, having to carry around an ID card everywhere for everything is an explicit sign. More subtly, the lingering undercurrent of fear and treachery is palpable throughout.

The film is even more captivating in the manner in which Mungiu crafts the movie and eases the audience into the story. The opening sequence, for instance, is just another day in a dorm room with a girl talking to her roommate. But even then, there is this sense of uneasiness in the air, like something is very very wrong.

And that sense persists even as Otilia goes through the ordinary tasks of everyday life like getting bani from cutie de nesc, buying săpun or taking public transport without a ticket.

And then Mungiu chooses his moments to hit you in the face with what’s going down. For instance, the deal proposed by Bebe, the man who assists Otilia’s roommate Gabita have an illegal abortion, comes as a shock relatively quick on the heels of the revelation that the abortion is the big highlight of the day. But while you are still reeling from that, it is his nonchalant (dare I say “professional”) manner after the fact that is really unsettling.

Of course, this is not a movie about abortion. It is about the “life and times”; it is about despair and coping. And it surely packs loads of grit and realism.

The table-talk at Adi’s home sounds so very real too – it’s the things that regular people would talk about. For instance discussion about the “posting” of educated people in the country, or jokes about being turned in for going to church. By the priest.

There is also the quintessential generational quabble: “It’s proper that a girl should not drink”, “A girl like you, smoking in front of her boyfriend’s parents (shrug & head shake)”

The light table-talk aside, Patru Luni is dark and gritty, and almost as emotionally draining as Oldboy.

What sets Patru Luni apart is how Mungiu uses lighting and sounds and pauses and banality to connect his audience to Otilia. Sitting there, one can actually feel her helplessness, disgust, confusion, angst, and dread. Sometimes separately, and sometimes all together. It’s there in the uneasy silence in the hotel room. It’s there in the dark alleys and railway bridges at night. And it’s there in the relationship talk in Adi’s room. In fact, it is pervasive.

In some strange way, perhaps in how it makes you uncomfortable on occasion, Patru Luni reminds one of Ôdishon. But more importantly, due to the “life goes on” theme, it is reminiscent of Volver. That said, the gloomily-textured Patru Luni is far superior to the brightly-colored Volver, despite whatever contrasts Pedro Almodóvar may have intended to invoke.

Anamaria Marinca is truly a director’s actress; she is excellent as Otilia. She has tremendous potential and is destined for big things. It’s a shame that she’s wasted in a minor role in Youth Without Youth. Laura Vasiliu and Vlad Ivanov provide her efficient support as Gabriela/Gabita “Dragut” and Viarel Bebe respectively.

Now for the trivia: It was interesting that Otilia says “No not an even number” to buying 48 flowers for her boyfriend Adi’s mother because someone just recently told me that even numbers are considered bad luck in România. One also gets an inkling of how români speak of Bucureşti and România as mutually exclusive entities, as I discovered during my visit.

Speaking of the strange things one notices, there is prominent mention of Unilever brands like Lux and Rexona that are megabrands in India, but are hardly even seen on supermarket shelves in western Europe or America (except Rexona deo, perhaps).

As you might have guessed, my final verdict is that this is a must-see movie. Of course, steer clear of it when you want to be cheered up.

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