FOUR MONTHS, THREE weeks and two days. Wait another two years and you will get to see this 2007 Cannes Palme d’Or winner in India. What you get to see is a film that takes you through a day in the life of two girls — Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) — in Romania in 1987. Everything about the movie stresses the ordinary. The camerawork makes you think of documentaries, as if you were spying on reality. Characters spend time worrying about details that clutter the day-to-day: ticketless travel, fathers, quests for that special brand of cigarettes. All trace of melodrama is absent. What happens that day is, perhaps, not as ordinary. Otilia helps Gabita get an illegal abortion.
It’s the treatment of this harrowing day as something normal that makes the film so striking. Various questions suggest themselves: What is the price we pay to maintain normalcy? It’s frightening to see the two girls struggling to get some cheap solutions and realising, as they discuss things over with the deceptively matter- of-fact abortionist Mr Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), that things don’t come easy. As they try to get things done, they are confronted at every turn by the powers that govern our ordinary lives: doctors (how lovingly the camera lingers on alcohol, cotton gloves and gauze), policemen, even hotel managers. The search for a quick-fix will inevitably leads to you to be embroiled in a mess of rules and perpetual demands for ID cards and explanations.
It’s not clear if everything does return to how it used to be. Tension grows between the girls. Otilia ends up bearing the brunt of the day, often thanks to Gabita’s lies because she didn’t want to face her situation. The strain shows up in her relationship with her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) as well. A great sequence has them sitting at the table for his mother’s birthday with all the guests talking loudly about meat and religion while both of them stay utterly silent and expressionless. Otilia doesn’t react even when one of the guests, in what could easily be a summing up of the movie, says “Kids have to learn life is hard. There’s no one to take care of them later.”
With excellent performances, the movie celebrates a style of filmmaking that is straightforward yet moving, where none of the well established gimmicks of music or plot are required to keep the audience gripped or to get them thinking, as the lights come up on the painful stories that prop up the façade of the commonplace.