Tuesday, March 25, 2008

film review

Devastating - thats the only way to describe this tense, turgid film.

Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days

The film begins with a hand-held static shot of a table next to a window sill. The comforting clutter is interrupted by an obviously tense and anxious girl preoccupied with the plastic sheet on the table. She clears the table with the help of her hostel room mate, removes the sheet and folds it into the suitcase she is packing.

The room mate seems calmer, and goes in and out of the hostel room organising things - smuggled western cigarettes, recovering a borrowed hair dryer - she is told that she needs to report to some authority for missing her army training(?) and giving a fake excuse of having her periods. Little details are put together to give the context of 1987, the last years of the communist regime in Romania.

The film runs through the 110 minutes without once allowing for a catharsis for the viewer. The narrative is terse, and built out of seemingly innocuous details.
The details are arranged together to create unending tension for what the two girls are preparing for, it takes some time for the film to reveal what they are going to do. One of the girls is going in for an abortion.

The abortion is illegal, and the most mundane moments are used to build the anxiety surrounding the action. The anxiety is not about the moral, ethical choice of abortion. The anxiety is around the fact that the action is illegal, it criminalises the act of abortion both for the doctor who will perform it in a hotel room, the young woman who is going through the abortion, and the friend who will help her go through it, and dispose the foetus.

Making abortion illegal directly attacks a woman's choice and control over her body. She is made a criminal for taking charge of her body. And in that moment she is made vulnerable and powerless.

The doctor who has been contacted realises that the young woman is four months pregnant. After three months an abortion is seen as murder, and the criminal charge would be that meant for a murderer. He uses that to make the girls pay, in cash and more. A brutal moment shot in the bathroom of the hotel room. The doctor has sex with the friend while the pregnant young woman waits, runs the taps to drown any sound. The friend rushes in, keeps the water running to wash herself, and to drown out the sound of the doctor having sex with the young pregnant woman.

The abortion itself is done in a matter of fact manner. The girl is asked not to move and to wait for the foetus to abort, it could take hours. The friend has to leave to attend her boy friend's mother's birthday party. She leaves her friend alone, immobile, waiting for the inevitable.

She rushes across a bleak urban landscape to reach the party.She is unable to join in, or accept her boyfriend's attempts at understanding what she is going through. She goes into the bathroom and puts on the tap.

She comes back to the hotel room to find that her friend has aborted. The foetus lies on the bathroom floor, it has to disposed off. The friend begs for it to be buried. The doctor has forbidden it, for fear of being discovered. The friend has been instructed to go to a high rise and dispose it off through the garbage chute. She walks across the dark streets, in fear of encountering advances by men, or the police. In fear, dread and panic she follows the doctor's instructions.

The film displays no ambiguity on its position on abortion.To look at abortion as a moral issue can only be an individual's prerogative. When society and the law takes a moral position on abortion it is essentialy problematic and an attack on a woman's right over her body.

Static hand-held shots that go on for a couple of minutes( as the director says in one of the interviews i read, I held on for as long as it was technically possible) interspersed with hectic hand-held shots following the characters through corridors, rooms, streets create an unrelenting pace. The pace is unbroken by emotional highs and lows, emotional graphs that go up and down are an easy crutch to keep the audience 'hooked'. The action unfolds with a stunning lack of moral judgement. There is no attempt to look into why the girl wants an abortion, who is the father, or even the doctor making the girls pay. The moral judgement is reserved for what the girls have to go through to get an abortion.

The last shot of the film is devastating. The friend comes back to find the young woman waiting for something to eat in the hotel restaurant. When asked if she buried the foetus, the friend gives no answer. The friend says, we will not talk about this, ever.

In one sentence the entire experience has been pushed into the realm of silence. The violence has been shrouded and made invisible. The violence has been transformed into individual, private, guilt and shame.

for another review go here


dipali said...

Reading this was so fraught with tension- watching it must have been really nerve-wracking. Totalitarian regimes are truly terrifying.

SUR NOTES said...

dipali: unfortunately, abortion is illegal not just in totalitarian regimes.

dipali said...

True. Our beloved country has still not revoked Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Reproductive rights don't always exist either.

karmickids said...

Gosh sur, I dont think I could ever sit through this screening. I realise how blessed I am to have the freedom of choice.

Anarchytect said...

terrific film though terrifying. still recovering from it.

SUR NOTES said...

karmickids: it is a disturbing film. and beautifully made.