4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(321)

Director: Cristian Mungiu; Release date: 11 January

The Palme d'Or winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, is set during the last days of the Communist regime in Romania. It starts with a student called Gabita frantically packing a suitcase. Her room mate Ortila remarks that "it looks like you're packing to go camping". It emerges that Gabita is pregnant - not two months pregnant, as she originally claims, but four months pregnant. Abortion is still illegal in Romania, but Ortila chooses to help her friend.

We discover that the doctor who will perform the abortion - "Mr Bebe" - is not a kindly citizen who wants to "help women out". He is in it for the cash, and bullies the young students into paying him large sums that they cannot afford. The film takes an even darker turn when he suggests that he may require "a little bit extra" from Gabita and Ortila because they do not have enough money.

Outside the law, Gabita and Ortila are vulnerable - they are alone in a hotel room with Mr Bebe, they have already paid for a three night stay which they can barely afford, and Gabita is desperate to get an abortion. They know that they can't call the police to shop the "doctor", because they are involved in an illegal act themselves. Mr Bebe kindly reminds them that a termination in the first three months of pregnancy is punished by a smaller prison sentence, but at four months a termination becomes classified as murder.

Cristian Mungiu's film has some lighter moments, but is on the whole harrowing. It shows how some women had no idea what to expect under a system where abortion couldn't be discussed openly. In one scene Gabita tries to talk to her boyfriend about safe sex, but he refuses to discuss it fully. Secrecy and repression weigh down on all of the relationships in this film. Gabita realises that she is alone and that she too, as a working class woman with little power under the regime, would have to resort to a backstreet abortion if she got pregnant.

Gabita and Ortila are characters who represent some of many women who were forced to access illegal abortions in Romania after terminations were banned in 1966. Approximately 500,000 women died from unsafe abortions as a result.

At a time when British abortion law is being looked at in parliament, this is an important reminder of what terminations look like when a woman's right to choose is disregarded. Among other things, it shows how women can put off acknowledging pregnancy as a way of coping in difficult circumstances, and why access to abortion - including abortions performed later than four months into pregnancy - is important.