Cristian Mungiu creates his space in the Ceausescu regime where almost everything must be procured from black market. This is also the time where a woman doesn't have the right to terminate her pregnancy. At the center of this space or should I say trapped in this space (like the two goldfish from the fish tank in the opening shot) are Gabita and Otilia. Gabita is this naive looking mopey 20-ish girl who is four months pregnant desiring an abortion, whilst Otilia is her smart, stolid roommate trying to help her. But that is just looking at the surface, both the characters go much deeper as the film progresses and that too just within the time-frame of 24 hours.
Now even though Gabita is the one who needs the abortion, the film focuses on Otilia who takes up responsibility without wavering. She could be called the hero of the film and yet she is without any superhuman qualities, for she too gets upset when she has to unwillingly make the ultimate sacrifice. And that is exactly what the film is about, when one can't help but feel the wounds and is unable to get over the horrors.
It is Otilia who handles money, books hotel room, meets the abortionist and bring everything together at the rendezvous just because Gabita is too afraid. What happens in the hotel room is a traumatic experience, most of which the camera captures with an unflinching gaze in largely single takes. While Gabita goes on exposing her weaknesses, Otilia reveals her strength even in the most appalling circumstances. But beneath Gabita's timidness lies her self-seeking motives however even after discerning this fact, Otilia never refrains from caring for her friend. And if having been through the agony of the hotel room slaughter was not enough, Otilia has to perform her duties as a girlfriend by attending a dinner at her boyfriend Adi's place on the occasion of his mothers birthday. Here one of the most harrowing moments especially in the aftermath of the hotel scene is the long-winded claustrophobic scene at the dinner table. The camera stays still without any movement as we watch Otilia sitting through this ordeal of having to bear the inane conversations of some old and rude self-centered elders. And if all this was not enough Mungiu keeps pushing us into Otilia's world as she roves across the murky Romanian streets.
The film's quality lies in its absorbing material, there is an ever-increasing tension, about the procedure of abortion and the consequences. It makes us worry for Gabita when Otilia leaves her alone in the room, it makes us feel the anxiety of Otilia when she is walking down the shady streets where dogs incessantly bark, bottles smash and shadows dissapear in darkness. We feel concerned for the two female leads whether they would make it through the day. Mungiu with his deep focus shots makes the very textures palpable for the viewers, be it the cluttered rooms of the dormitory or the dingy hotel rooms. He makes us squirm in our seats with his dialogues as he creates the horrible graphic images in our minds. He takes a minimalist approach to keep the story straightforward and as real as possible.
4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is however not about the excruciating 24 hours that Otilia and Gabita live through, but the life that lies ahead that they plan to live without ever referring to this day, if that is at all possible.