yesterday afternoon i saw 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days a couple of hours later i saw atonement.
4-3-2, is the story of a woman who gets an illegal abortion in ceauşescu's romania. there's been a lot of press about the new wave of romanian cinema (which includes not only 4-3-2, but also the death of mr. lazarescu and 12:08 east of bucharest), but this was the first one i have seen. it really blew me away. the minimalist filmmaking really appealed to me: the spare editing, the lack of color and the medium distance of the camera proved to be remarkably engaging.
in one scene the main character is stuck at a dinner party when she really wants to leave to check on her friend who could be bleeding to death in her room. the camera centers on her in the middle of a table. dinner conversation goes past her but she just sits there, her mind clearly elsewhere, waiting for an excuse to leave. and you, sitting in the audience, want her to leave too. you want to know what happened to her friend. the camera doesn't do anything but points at the dinner table. not much is happening on screen. but the tension builds as the scene lingers on. on the surface, the film looks like it would be slow, but it doesn't feel slow. at least not to me. emotionally the film is action packed.
and then there's the abortion thing. cristian mungiuthe, the director, has said that the film wasn't intended to be about abortion; it's about totalitarianism. and yet abortion is a key part of the plot. at the screening i saw there was some question whether the film is pro-choice or pro-life. i wonder whether the american framework for the debate even applies in romania. i don't know anything about abortion politics in that country, but i do know that the abortion debate is quite different from here in a lot of european countries.
but if you must cram the film into a pro-choice or pro-life framework, it's hard for me to see it as anything but pro-choice. the main evidence, really the only evidence, in favor of a pro-life message is one particularly gruesome shot of a fetus, an image that evokes the posters that we tend associate with anti-abortion protesters. i guess the image of a fetus has co-opted by the pro-life movement here in the u.s. while i have no idea whether it has in romania too, i suspect not. the bottom line is that, whether you're pro or anti, a fetus is part of an abortion, particularly an illegal one. i don't think the fact that there is a fetus on screen necessarily makes a comment either way.
"atonement" proved to be much more of a disappointment. i finished reading the book this week and really loved it. the film follows the plot fairly closely, but loses the main themes of the book that made it so great. the story is all there in the film: the love affair between a rich woman and the son of a servant, a misunderstanding by a small girl that leads to horrible consequences, the war, the hospital, and the novelist in the present reflecting back on her mistakes. the book was really about how memory is shaped by understanding and how writing and storytelling creates reality. the act of storytelling is central to the book, but just a small part of the film. as a result the film really isn't about anything.
so i've seen three films this weekend so far (the above two, plus this is england). all came out in 2007. but the only one that was nominated for an academy award is the one i liked the least. more evidence that i shouldn't pay any attention to the academy.