Tuesday, 18 March 2008

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

End of the final pull back of the opening shot

The birthday party

The final shot

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is still playing in art cinemas in Seoul, although not with English subtitles, so I watched the film through a bittorrent. This Romanian film won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and along with Lee Chang-Dong's Secret Sunshine, I think it was the best film of last year.

The film creates both a sense of realism through its long take style and, increasingly, a sense of subjectivity as well. It's important to point out the extreme nature of the realistic approach here. There are only 65 shots in the entire film, which lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes, not counting credits, making the average shot length close to 90 seconds. This is not a question of a director just letting their camera run, however. The approach establishes the space and the relationships between the characters, and then as the drama enfolds allows the real time aspect of the long take to give the viewer the experience of these characters. The visceral impact that this film has (and thus its political importance) is intimately connected to the nature of its long take approach. The subjectivity reaches its peak with a long tracking shot behind the lead character through the city streets, and then retreats back to objectivity with the final more formally composed two shot at the table that closes the picture.

The longest take of the film is also one of the most effective. It lasts over 7 minutes and show the lead character is framed (trapped) between her boyfriend's parents, with the boyfriend in the background. The tension of the scene is between the middle class conversation of this birthday party and the life and death situation of her friend, which is where her mind clearly is (and where Mungiu wants the viewers concern to be as well). Much has been made of the film as anti-Communist, but this is exaggerated in my opinion. It is a very specific social critique of Communism in Romania, but I think it is actually a movie many Marxists would approve of in its treatment of class. It is also much more explicitly a feminist film, and it reminded me a great deal of Erick Zonck's great The Dreamlife of Angels (1998).

Although the film is certainly grim, it also manages to be both visceral and political and deserves to be compared with other great examples of realistic and minimalist cinema.

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