Catching up

I’m way behind on my crits for the writing group, so I’m trying to catch up on some of those. I’m also trying to come up with a decent bio for Thousand Faces.

The Dallas Comic Con was a lot of fun. Wasn’t too crowded this time, so I was able to get in and get everything I wanted done in pretty short order. I found an amazingly cheap copy of DC: The New Frontier Absolute Edition, which is just gorgeous. It’s nice to have a copy of the full series, especially in this format. Christina Hendricks was very cool and easy to chat with, and I got to meet artist Bob McLeod, who co-created some of my favorite comic characters (The New Mutants). I even managed to sell a bunch of old toys I had laying around.

Sunday we saw Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. (Fort Worth doesn’t have any awesome Indy movie theaters like Dallas does, but we do have the Modern Art Museum, which has a small screen on which they can show things like this.) I reviewed it for the department newsletter, so I thought I’d post that here. The fact that this film wasn’t included among the Best Foreign Film nominees just goes to highlight how irrelevant the Oscars are.

Something I’ve come to realize is that my reviews are almost always completely positive. Fact is, I’m generally pretty picky about what movies I see, and have a pretty good eye for what I’ll like. So the chances of me walking into a movie and coming out sorely disappointed are pretty slim (though it does happen–Star Wars prequels, I’m looking at you). If I were a pro, I’d go see everything, and probably have a lot of negative reviews. But really, is there a point to reviewing something like Meet the Spartans or Transformers?

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

I’ve seen movies from many other countries—Japan, Brazil, Israel, Pakistan, China, you name it. I’m one of those people who can’t stand dubbed movies. I own at least two foreign films that require you to read for nearly four hours. However, I must confess to not having seen anything from Romania before, though the country has a long history in cinema. After watching 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days at a special screening at the Modern, I’ll be happy to continue looking for more.

4 Months is set in Romania in 1987. For those unfamiliar with Romanian history, the communist regime there, up until the violent revolution in 1989, was particularly brutal. Every Soviet-era police state stereotype you can think of was a matter of reality for the citizens of Romania. Against this backdrop, writer/director Christian Mungiu tells us the story of college student Otilia as she seeks to aid her roommate and friend Gabriela in obtaining an abortion. Abortion (and even basic contraception) was illegal and punishable by prison time for both doctor and patient.

The film’s focus and dedication to the story is remarkable. Everything on screen lends something to the story. In the first half hour of the film, we see how difficult it can be to obtain even the most basic of commodities. Even minor authority that we would mock in the United States can be as controlling and humiliating as any secret police force. Again and again the film hammers at just how powerless these women are, and how frustrating their lives can be. The conflicts become more personal and complex as the film unfolds, each compounding the dreadful situation. The story is masterfully told with often brutal honesty.

Mungiu uses many long takes, allowing the actors to rule the scenes instead of the camerawork. Just enough “documentary style” cinematography and some brilliant use of lighting sucks the viewer in and creates an atmosphere so tense I’m tempted to call 4 Months one of the best horror movies I’ve seen. The performances are top notch, and make me wish I spoke Romanian, as there are moments the dialog comes so quickly and naturally that it’s difficult to keep up with the subtitles.

I should note that the movie is completely non-judgmental. It would be easy for any movie involving abortion to quickly devolve into some sort of ham-fisted morality tale. 4 Months deftly avoids taking sides on the issue by wisely focusing on the story.

This is not a film for anyone looking for an easy answer, or expecting everything to be conveniently wrapped up by the time the credits roll. Life for these characters is messy. There are threads of potential plot left unraveled, but rather than serve as a frustration for the viewer, we are left with the grim reality that nothing in their lives will ever be easy or certain.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days will be available (according to NetFlix) to rent May 6th.