Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
Romania, 1987, the brutal Ceausescu communist regime is in place; birth control is illegal and abortion is a crime punishable by death. Gabita (Laura Vasliu) is almost five months into an unwanted pregnancy and in meek desperation turns to her friend and roommate, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) for help in organizing an illegal termination. Unfortunate circumstances force the two women to use an unwanted male abortionist, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). The bleakness of the storyline expresses a dark socio-political critique in the twilight years of a repressive dictatorship.Written by
Chritian Mungiu delivers one of the finer suspense films in the past few years. Set in Ceausescu's grim murderous police state, I was reminded of Polanski's shocker "Repulsion" albeit without the Gothic thrills. It's a loaded subject matter of abortion that sets the scene, but we aren't asked to take sides in someones polemic. The nightmare that unfolds is probably played out often, and that's the movie's genius. We identify quickly with the dilemma even though the bureaucratic maze the characters have to bribe and finagle there way through is in extreme.
The smallest details are accurate and riveting, from the possibly dire consequences of not paying a bus fare to eavesdropping on a conversation between a mother and her son that's suddenly interrupted by the sound of gun shot, the protagonist here (and what a courageous beauty she turns out to be) has nerves of steel that any action hero would envy.
It's our loss that this may be the only time we get to see Anamarie Marinca perform. She's nearly in every shot in the film and her unsteady conviction to her friend who is seeking an abortion is mesmerizing to watch. Her foil, Laura Vasiliu, is maddeningly dense and just as effective as the girl who's so lost in her dilemma that you can't tell if her judgment is impaired by her predicament or she's simple-minded. It's a touching performance that's also infuriating because of the dangers she sets in motion all around her.
The mise en scene here is one of a master. Midway through the film, there's a stunning set piece where Marinca and her boyfriend are full screen at a party, the camera never moves and they don't speak a word while adults chatter all around them while only occasionally hands enter the frame. The tension that results is almost unbearable when a telephone rings off in the distance, and Marinca is unable to move to find out if it's a desperate call for help...or simply someone calling to wish Happy Birthday.
There are many, many such fine moments in this movie. It shows that horror isn't necessarily the boogie man or a creature from outer space. It can be of our own making, both individually and by the government that rules us.
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