Yesterday’s reposts made me want to watch a Romanian movie I’ve seen a couple of times already. I have discovered that Romania has put out some truly excellent films, even though I have to watch them with subtitles. But I’ve seen several now, and have even purchased a few for my library. The first time I had ever seen the film I saw yesterday, entitled 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, it was a random Netflix DVD I rented some years ago. The first time I saw it, I was astonished by the movie, which was made in 2007.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is set in an unnamed university town in Romania during the year 1987. Communism is still alive and well in Eastern Europe. Nicolae Ceaușescu is the president of the country, and rules it with an iron fist. In 1987 era Romania, Ceaușescu has forbidden abortions in almost every case. Contraception is also forbidden, and women are forced to visit gynecologists regularly to check for pregnancies. Viewers hear that rule referred to as Otilia talks about when she had her last period. However, even though abortion is punishable by years in a prison cell, women still access it by way of enlisting the services of illegal abortionists. Otherwise, they may find themselves raising children they can’t afford. In the 1990s, Romania was notorious for the number of babies it had in orphanages. Many of those babies grew up to be unable to assimilate in society because they were never properly socialized or cared for when they were infants. And some were born with diseases like AIDS. Women in Ceausescu’s era were expected to have children– at times, up to four or five of them– so that Ceausescu’s regime would always be supplied with fresh souls. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t enough available to support all of those babies being born into his regime.
Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) are roommates at the university in the unnamed Romanian town. They share a drab dormitory room on a co-ed hall. Gabita is pregnant. She’s shy, and seems to need looking after by Otilia, who seems to be more of a motherly type. Otilia takes care of her roommate, buying her soap and cigarettes from the campus shop, and bringing milk powder to a friend who has found kittens in the dorm’s boiler room. She’d like to take one, but Gabita is allergic to cats.
Gabita complains about a toothache, while Otilia tells her she’ll survive until after Saturday, when they’ve done the deed. The abortionist, a man named Viorel Bede (Vlad Ivanov) has given explicit instructions to Gabita on booking a room at one of two hotels in town. He has also told her what to bring with her. However, Gabita fails to get a room in the right hotel. Otilia ends up booking a much more expensive room at a different hotel. She deals with the unfriendly receptionist at Bede’s preferred hotel, who tells her the rooms are completely booked. Otilia also meets Bede, in Gabita’s stead, which makes him very nervous as he explains that if the authorities ever find out what they are doing, all three of them will go to prison.
At the hotel– the one Bede didn’t prefer– they’ve all left their identification with the front desk. They are told to leave the room key when they go out. The decor is strictly 1987, complete with primitive looking rotary dial phones. I had one in my first Armenian apartment that looked just like the one used in this film. Bede examines Gabita, realizing that she’s much further along in her pregnancy than she had told him. He explains that he will have to do a different procedure that will cost more. Since the women don’t have enough money to pay Bede, he says both women must have sex with him to make up the difference. When they balk at that idea, Bede reminds them that he’s not the one who needs help.
Otilia goes first, and we see her come into the bathroom afterwards, naked from the waist down as she climbs into the bathtub, looking wan and sick as she hoses herself off. Gabita has neglected to bring the plastic sheet Bede told her to bring, so she must cut a plastic bag and use it to protect the bed as Bede performs the abortion. After he’s finished, Bede gives Gabita instructions. He tells her to be very careful of infection, and if one should develop and she needs to see a doctor, not to deny having been pregnant. Lying about the pregnancy is a surefire way to land in prison, while claiming she didn’t know may result in the authorities looking the other way.
While Gabita waits, lying perfectly still and waiting for the fetus to die, Otilia visits her boyfriend and his family, who are having a party. Otilia is not in a good mood and doesn’t want to visit her boyfriend or hang out with his family. She’s just been through something horrific. But she can’t tell him about it. After staying just long enough to be polite, Otilia leaves. Her boyfriend is confused and upset when Otilia goes, but Otilia must get back to her friend. She’s a motherly sort, and concerned that Gabita needs her.
When Otilia arrives at the hotel, Gabita is covered up, sound asleep in bed. Otilia wakes her and Gabita says she got “rid” of it. Otilia finds the tiny, bloody, fetus lying on the bathroom floor. I will warn that this is not an easy scene to watch, and it lasts about fifteen seconds. Otilia is horrified by the sight of the dead fetus, but Gabita just seems relieved that the abortion is over. Gabita still asks her friend to bury the fetus for her, and Otilia obliges. She comes back to find Gabita in the restaurant, “starving”. There’s a wedding going on, so the food in the restaurant is what was being served at the wedding. Otilia is completely sickened by what she and her friend have been through… and Gabita, who had been the one to have the abortion, just seems numb.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an interesting film for so many reasons. First off, it’s set in a time that wasn’t that long ago, but seems like it was ages ago. I was fifteen years old in 1987, and at that time, it seemed like communism would go on forever. Ceausescu was still very much in charge of Romania, and the threat of prison for abortion was very real. No one could know that in just two years, the Ceausescu regime would suddenly fall with the bang of the guns used to execute both Ceausescu and his wife, Elena.
Although this film is set in 1987, it’s still a useful subject for the present time. Today, in 2021, there are still people trying to stop women from having abortions. Governor Greg Abbott, of Texas, just signed a “heartbeat law”, which bans abortion for any woman who is more than six weeks along in her pregnancy. I find it interesting that a man who presides over a state that is very proud of its record on executing people on death row is claiming that Texas is a “pro-life” state. I also find it interesting that when a fetus is in utero, a heartbeat is a signal of life, whereas in people who have been born already, it takes brainwaves to prove life. But I digress. Texas’s new law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who offer services to anyone more than six weeks pregnant, in which the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. The person suing would not have to have a connection to the person who had an abortion to sue.
There was a time in the United States when women who wanted to have an abortion had to sneak around and find someone like Bede to do the job. There’s no telling how many of those women were also coerced into providing sexual favors, too. I think about all of the heartbreaking situations a pregnant person might find themselves in that would make them want to seek to terminate a pregnancy. I think of how many of those situations are simply no one else’s business at all… actually, I would say that 100% of those situations are no one else’s business. But we still have so many politicians– many of them men, who will never have to deal with the consequences of an unintended pregnancy– trying to push these laws that will victimize women and endanger their health. And so many of these same politicians don’t want to do a damned thing for those babies, once they’ve been born.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not an easy film to watch. It’s entirely in Romanian, so you have to pay attention to the film if you don’t know the language. The setting is bleak; there is no musical score; and the subject matter is depressing. However, I think it’s a very powerful film. Regardless of what I think of abortion on a personal level, I believe that people who want them will be determined to get them. They will put themselves at great risk and contribute to criminal behavior. And the babies born that survive botched abortion attempts may end up being a burden to society. Perhaps most importantly, the women who have money will still be able to have safe, legal abortions and will access them. Poor women– the one’s least able to support raising a child– will be the ones who suffer the most under this legislation. They will be the ones who might find themselves in the hellish situation Otilia and Gabita were in, as a man who provides abortions demands sexual favors from them before he does the procedure in less than hygienic and safe surroundings.
I would recommend 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to anyone who is interested in Romanian cinema. But I would also recommend it to those who need a reminder of why it’s best to let pregnant people make decisions for themselves, whether or not they wish to continue gestating fetuses. But if you do choose to watch this film, be prepared for the heavy emotional message. It’s definitely not a cheerful film, despite its powerful and necessary message. In any case, this story is one that reminds me of why I will always be in favor of contraceptives and legalized abortion.
Incidentally, since abortion and contraception have become legal in Romania, the number of women seeking abortions has gone down exponentially.
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