Mungiu's 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Cannes Film Fest 2007–Romanian director Cristian Mungiu on his film, which received the Palme d'Or as well as the critics prize from Fipresci jury (of which I was a member this year).

The story

The screenplay starts from that kind of personal experience that people usually dont share with the others. Something unexpected happened with the people coming in contact with my story: once they were hearing it, they had a personal story of this kind to share with us. All of a sudden, everybody had something to tell about this topic. I was somehow amazed to discover how spread and hidden such stories are. Talking to people, I found out the most horrible of stories. I didnt use them in the film I just followed the story I knew best but they helped me understood how wide spread the phenomenon was.

The Screenplay

I wrote the first draft in July last year. It was much longer than the final version it had some 160 pages and described in more detail the morning of the girls in the students dorms. It also included the visit of Gabitas father the only scene that was shot and dropped in the editing. I decided to sacrifice a good scene – with a lot of hints regarding the influence of the parental education on the way the characters decide – in favor of the narrative coherence. Meanwhile, Otilia had imposed herself with authority as the main character. I kept re-writing during the shooting, especially dialogues but not only. I am always re-writing the scene after knowing the location and reading the dialogue with the actors. I kept adding substance on the core of the film, the scenes with Mr. Bebe and I encouraged the thriller rhythm of the last part. As usually with my writing, I calmed down as soon as I knew my ending.

Historical context

In 1966, a law than banned abortion was imposed in Romania. The effect was immediate: up to 1970, there were four huge generations of children, a few times more numerous than the generations before 1966. The number of children in a classroom increased from 28 to 36. The number of classes in schools increased from 2 or 3 to 9 or 10. When I entered school, we were seven Cristians in the class even names were too few for the number of children. Soon, women started to appeal to illegal abortions. By the end of communism, sources say that more than 500 000 women had died because of that. In that context, abortion lost any moral connotation and was rather perceived as an act of rebellion and resistance against the regime.

After 1989, one of the first measures taken in the free country was to legalize abortion again. The consequence was a number of abortions of almost one million per year by far greater than in any country in Europe. Even today, abortion is still used as a method of contraception more than 300 000 cases being reported every year.

Casting

I had only one actor in mind when I was writing: Vlad Ivanov, the actor that interprets Mr. Bebe. I had worked with him a commercial one year before and I was amazed by his strength and minuteness. During the casting, I double-checked my option about him as Mr. Bebe seeing other actors but I only got convinced I was right. He was capable on the shooting to deliver often up to 10 pages of dialogue without dropping a single word, exactly with the intonation, tone of voice, pauses and gestures that we have agreed upon.

I considered working with Laura Vasiliu, the interpreter of Gabita for my first feature, Occident. But then she was wearing a dental device to align her teeth and she refused to take it out for the role. Later on, we also worked some commercials together and she gave me the impression she is capable to generate a lot of emotion. I had doubts at the beginning of my casting because she was not young enough for the role but she was so convincing in what she did that she forced me to take her.

A week before shooting, I was still missing my main character. I was running out of solutions: I had seen all Romanian actresses between 18 and 28 and still havent found my character. I decided to bring Anamaria Marinca from London. After getting a Bafta award for her first film, she had moved in England. For our low budget, it was a bit eccentric to pay a very expensive plane ticket just for a casting session but I decided it was worth trying. We met late by night, as soon as she arrived from the airport and I was disappointed – Anamaria as a person was not my character. Next day we read scenes together: the changing was amazing my character was talking through her mouth as if she was possessed. She was great the whole film stays on her shoulders.

Acting

I insist that actors know the lines by heart in absolute detail. I give them the chance to make their comments on the dialogue when we rehearse. I act for them. If I cant tell a line convincingly, I drop it it means there is something wrong with that line. Once they know the text, I start dropping letters from their pronunciation to make the dialogue sound as much as possible like negligent spoken language. Sound people detest me I encourage my actors to rather whisper if it helps them deliver the lines more naturally than to act with a strong voice that can be recorded. If I am absolutely pleased about something regarding my film, I am pleased about the acting. A comment I got after the first informal screening with the film was also the best complement for me so far: somebody mentioned that if you listen to the characters in the film from another room, they sound like people talking in home made videos.

The setting

I only shoot on location, I dont like stages. I like when background tells its story also. I like locations so much that I like to show everything. Most of the shots in the film show 180, 270, or even 360 degrees of the location. If youve ever been to a shooting, you can appreciate what a mess this is. Any shooting place has a base, a generator, light, a lot of cables, the assist of the director and so on. When you decide to make a circle with the camera, a whole crew of tens of people has to run behind the camera during the shot, and do this silently. Sometimes, its comic to watch them.

Since we decided to shoot mostly one shot per scene, we had scenes where the camera followed the actor for more than 100 meters, starting from a street and entering finally in an apartment. Its terribly difficult but the effect is so natural it was worth doing it.

The Props

I tried to make a film about my characters and about my story and not about the period. I wanted the period to be always just the context and not the subject of the film. I tried to respect and re-create realities as much as I could but not to push in front of the camera stereotypes and landmarks of late communist times. Objects of that period are all there in the film but in the foreground: the bus that ran with gas cylinders like bombs on top of it, the local Romanian car that was compared with an iron, the trash bins, the walls covered with books. The habits are also there: the pack of Kent was much more important then the money you paid for it and you couldnt solve anything without it.

Shooting a period film

The eighties are already period. The towns have changed dramatically since than. There are seven times more cars in Bucharest, the town is crowded with colored advertising and most of the buildings have air conditioning, satellite dishes, metal window frames and so on. In the late eighties there was no light on the streets any longer, just two hours of TV program on the sole TV channel, very little gasoline for cars, and a very bleak and grayish atmosphere overall. This explains the grading of the film.

Film's Aesthetics

I discussed before the shooting with Oleg Mutu, my partner and cinematographer about what style should advantage the story. We decided to keep things as sober as possible and to drop out as much as possible everything that could be seen as staged or conventional. We didnt use a tripod but we didnt use a steady-cam also. We didnt use dollies or cranes. We decided to shoot one shot per scene and to allow the actors to use the space behind the camera also. We never paned or tilt to see an actors face many lines come from off camera or actors dont have their heads in. We made a point and a strategy from shooting people from their backs. We dropped, little by little, everything that could be considered too nice, too staged, including the beautiful snow falling at the end of the last shot. We tried to focus on capturing emotion and truth.

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