Europe take 2 – Abortion in communist Romania

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – Cristian Mungiu (2007)

I haven’t intentionally just picked films that give a social commentary and won the Palme D’or, it just so happens that that’s the way things have gone so far (perhaps as a sociology student i just can’t help myself). And I can’t think of a more deserving winner if there has even been one.

A few days ago, the senate voted to repeal the affordable women’s healthcare that made access to contraception free in the US. Today marks 5 days until “pro-life” (i put it in quotations because what some call pro-life i call anti-women but hey) president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration and absurdly, I can’t think of a more relevant film to have in mind than this one – a 2007 film set in 1980’s communist Romania. Sounds weak, I know, but stick with me. Living out the bulk of my post-puberty teens in Twenty-ten Britain, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine being sexually active in a society in which I wouldn’t be able to access a free and safe abortion should there be an issue with my free, 95% reliable contraception resulting in me falling pregnant. Even knowing I can, horrible dread still hangs over my head at the possibility of having to go through it. So this film was incredibly hard-hitting in showing what a Trump presidency could look like for women in the US. Shady, behind the scenes abortions by shady doctors who ask for large sums of money or even, in the case of ‘4 Months 3 Weeks, 2 Days’, ask grotesque favours from women in the most vulnerable position imaginable, in return. A difficult decision for any woman, but one that might just become punishable (if you buy that Trump is going to do even half of the shit he said he would during his campaign.)

This film is often referred to as a defining one for Romanian cinema, though with the bleakness of its subject, there is little room for much else in the film, let alone pleasure. It just so happens, however, that I watched it with my Romanian boyfriend, who would point out when something “so Romanian” happened in the film, like characters making a fuss about keeping the door shut – something that would go over your head entirely as an outsider (apparently Romanians think sitting near a breeze might give you a toothache and is, to quote his grandma, “especially dangerous when coming out of the shower”), and the dinner table scene, another which he branded “so Romanian” and that the conversation could be happening in 1987, 2007, or 2017, it was apparently just “so Romanian” – nice to see Mungiu captured the essence of the Romanian people anyhow.

The film itself, made on a small budget with limited resources reflects a dull and repressed communist Romania, proving originality and creativity more important than budget. The film is dark, and full of secrecy and anxiety as Otilia tries to arrange an illegal abortion for her friend Gabita and everything that could go wrong, does. Gabita’s character somewhat takes the back seat, messing up the plan frequently due to her panicked state, and Otilia is left to pick up the pieces of the plan, desperately so. Anamaria Marinca giving a chilling performance of someone putting her life on the line to help her friend. It’s easy to forget that these procedures were the only option just 20 years before the film was made, and that was the reality for women under communist regime, whilst at the same time my mother and every female member of my family walked the streets of England, able to decide when they did or didn’t want to have children. Watching this film, it truly baffles me that anybody, in 2017, could think it a good idea to put women in this position, or more that they shouldn’t be able to have a say in when they bear children.

Final thoughts: An incredibly difficult watch but and important one. Perhaps the most important watch for women’s rights.

 

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