(IFC First Take) Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean, Ion Sapdaru, Teodor Corban, Tania Popa. Directed by Cristian Mungiu.
The communist regime in Romania was a particularly repressive one. There were strict laws governing the lives and morality of the people of Romania lived in constant terror of breaking those laws, which sometimes became necessary as in the case of a young unmarried woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion, you see, was illegal.
College roommates Otilia (Marinca) and Gabita (Vasiliu) are preparing for a night away from their noisy dormitory. This is no mere vacation, however. Gabita is pregnant and desperate and has turned to her roommate to help her obtain an illegal abortion.
Gabita is a mess. Unable to follow even the simplest instruction, she has no inertia, no drive. She more or less relies on everyone around her (i.e. Otilia) to take care of her. Otilia raises the money (much of it from her boyfriend Adi (Potocean) who comes from a professional family of doctors) and checks them into their hotel. Gabita even sends Otilia to meet the abortionist (Ivanov), a violation of the rules that the abortionist, Mr. Bebe, set in advance. In fact, Gabita had even been unable to make the reservations at the hotel Mr. Bebe had specified, leaving Otilia to scramble to find any kind of hotel that had rooms available.
Because of Gabita’s gaffe, Otilia is forced to find a more expensive hotel, leaving them short in the agreed-upon amount for the abortionist. He forces them to make up the amount in trade – a very explicit trade. Not just with Gabita, but also with Otilia. At first she balks, but eventually gives in. She even goes first.
As it turns out, Gabita has even lied about how far along she is in her pregnancy, adding more risk to the abortion. After Bebe does what he has to do, he informs Gabita that she must lie still while the drugs do their work. Afterwards, the aborted fetus must be disposed of – preferably, down the garbage chute. However, Otilia has made previous arrangements to attend a birthday party for her boyfriend’s mother and must leave Gabita alone for a short while.
This is a brutally stark movie that levels an unblinking eye on a time and place in history. The participants are flawed, frightened and all-too-human. Director Mungiu chooses a simplistic approach. There are no jump cuts, no montages, none of the things associated with modern short attention span cinematography. Instead we get simple one scene, one shot set-ups with close attention paid to camera angles. In fact, there is not any incidental music in the entire film.
This is a wise move in that it forces the viewer to focus on the performances and the story. The two leads do a remarkable job. Marinca in particular, is noteworthy. Despite the storyline, this is more her film than Vasiliu’s as her character is the one that really carries the action. Even so, Marinca’s Otilia gives in to pressure, attending the birthday party even though she knows her friend needs her; sleeps with the abortionist so that her friend can have the abortion. She’s a fascinating contrast of strength and weakness.
Vasiliu has more of a thankless job, playing a character that is passive and self-centered. Her final scene with Marinca has been decried as anti-climactic, but it is one of her finest on-screen moments in my opinion. We see a bit more of the girl’s personality, making it obvious that she has learned nothing from the experience. It’s just an unpleasantness to be put behind her as quickly as possible.
There are those who will be uncomfortable with the abortion scenes, which are fairly clinical and graphic. While those who are pro-life might object about a movie that is about seeking out an abortion, these scenes will sell the anti-abortion point of view far more effectively. It is hard to tell if the filmmakers have a point of view about the morality of abortion; I suspect they may be anti-abortion if anything. Nothing good seems to come of the procedure here.
In many ways, however, this isn’t a movie about the pros and cons of abortion. It’s about the characters and how they are changed by what they do. The depiction of Romanian society is chilling; the paranoia is dealt with in an almost matter-of-fact style, which can be a bit jarring for western audiences used to freedom.
The starkness of the film may be off-putting to some, but it is one of the things I liked most about it. This is an honest, unflinching look at a place and time, and how that place and time affected the people who lived in it. We in the west are very unfamiliar with that place and time, and it is worth the perspective of seeing a glimpse of it to make us appreciate what we do have all the more.
WHY RENT THIS: A stark, unflinching look at a repressive society that we in the States have little knowledge of. Remarkable performances by Marinca and Vasiliu are worth checking out.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too graphic and honest for some. Subject matter may also be off-putting to those who find even the subject of abortion intolerable.
FAMILY VALUES: The is a graphic depiction of an abortion, as well as some nudity, and implied forced sex.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An extraordinary documentary about attempts to show the film in Romania. There is also a very interesting interview with director Cristian Mungiu.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Right at Your Door