Winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Festival, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days is a powerful, psychological thriller about the agonies of obtaining an abortion under the brutal, repressive communist regime in Romania. While the cast is uniformly talented, Anamaria Marinca is utterly compelling in the role of Otilia, the young woman who takes on the burden of arranging the undignified, distressing back-street abortion for her friend Gabita. Below, Marinca tells Electric Sheep why it was so important for her to make this film.
Sarah Cronin: Your first major role was in Sex Traffic. Do you find yourself attracted to these gritty, brutal parts?
Anamaria Marinca: They came to me, but I’m very interested in being useful as an artist. They’re both stories about my country, my history, my roots, and I need to tell these stories. I think they are useful today, and if just one person takes something out of them then that’s enough.
SC: One of the really appealing things about 4 Months is that it doesn’t make any moral judgements – the film is really a blank canvas.
AM: That was our intention. It was quite difficult for me because it’s hard not to have a personal opinion. Your personal truth is limited by life. We tried to go beyond the boundaries, to see more. Maybe because it’s twenty years later we now have the wisdom and clarity to tell the story. If we’d told it in the years after the revolution in 1989, it wouldn’t have been so objective.
SC: Cristian has said that the film is really not about abortion, or even communism. What do you think the heart of the story is? Is it about oppression and lack of freedom?
AM: It’s about pursuing truth, freedom, values – it’s about friendship, it’s about sacrifice. I don’t want to use big words, but you have to be driven by values in order to make a work of art. You have to transcend this literal reality that we’re living in. You don’t look at the film, you look through it and see other things beyond the film – at least you should.
SC: The film really revolves around your character, Otilia, even though Gabita is the one who has the abortion. Why do you think Cristian decided to focus on her?
AM: That was one of the things that attracted me to the story. His perspective is different. Visually, everything happens to the main character, and here we have this story that is parallel to what we would consider to be the main story, the abortion. Otilia is the one who understands what’s happening. I was very interested in taking part in telling the story in this way. I think that is why, for me, this is an optimistic story. At the end of the day, the film is about twenty-four hours in someone’s life, and she’s changed by the suffering she experiences. Sometimes you can’t always understand things, but suffering is not always bad, in my opinion. Otilia grows, becomes mature. And in that context, in that time and space, unfortunately, that’s how she had to learn things about life – it was very harsh.
SC: In the film, the so-called doctor, Mr Bebe, demands sex from both girls as payment for the abortion. Rather than show what is essentially rape, Cristian focuses on your character after the act, washing herself in the bathroom. It was quite an interesting way of showing the trauma. Was it quite difficult to prepare yourself for that scene where you’re really conveying the character’s ordeal through very small gestures?
AM: Yes, because it’s much more painful for a spectator to see that then to see the sexual act itself. We all know what’s going on in the bedroom. You don’t need to show it – this is the beauty of the art. The language of cinema is abstract. If the film offers you all of the answers, then there is not much point in making it. I don’t believe in films that project a reality for you, and tell you what you should think. Life is a mystery, and I believe in mystery. The world is so much bigger than the camera, the frame, we just show a fragment of it, but in your head you can see everything. It surrounds you. The story is a mirage, a paradox.
SC: The long takes in the film work fantastically well at capturing the psychological drama. Did you find that you had to be more personally involved in the story, because you really had to be into the character for such relatively long stretches of time?
AM: I am always personally involved, no matter how long the take is. Coming from theatre, I immensely enjoyed doing this. I had wonderful partners – it’s like playing a game, you’re always on the edge. At the theatre you have one month, six weeks, eight weeks to rehearse and here you have a few hours in the morning. It’s like a hunt, because you have to remember everything. It’s in the moment. Everything is limited, time is limited, your film is limited, and you know that, and this works on your adrenaline. Though I need to say that Cristian is one of the most relaxed artists I have ever worked with. He gives you the impression that you have all of the time in the world, and that is very important.
SC: Romanian filmmakers have received a lot of attention in the last year or so, with films such as 12:08 East of Bucharest, and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, on which Oleg Mutu, the DOP on 4 Months, also worked. Yourself, Cristian and Oleg are all quite young. Is this a new resurgence in Romanian cinema?
AM: There is something going on over there. It’s a whole new generation. It’s a generation who I think – we hope – hasn’t been corrupted. We’re searching for the truth. We’re not interested in a moral message. We just need to find our own way of telling stories, and we have nothing to lose. There was so much pain in our past and there is so much need to understand what happened.
SC: I think Romania really suffered one of the worst dictatorships.
AM: It was terrible, and we can see that in our parents and grandparents. The scars they left – the invisible scars which you can see every day. I wish that one day I can forgive the regime for doing this to my family, and to a whole generation of Romanians. Taking their dignity away from them, their right to be free spirits, and giving them instead the fear that is present for life, that accompanies them wherever they go, whatever they do. That is very difficult for me to cope with.
SC: It must have been quite a surprise to find yourself in a film that has done so well, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
AM: Yes. For me, it also means that there is hope. When Cristian accepted the Palme d’Or, he said that if we did this with no help whatsoever, then anyone who has an idea and something to tell can make a movie, and it can be recognised and it can be seen. You can tell the story – we’ve been to 10-15 countries so far, and we will probably cover about 60 just promoting and presenting the movie.
SC: I think in some ways it’s quite a universal story – it’s something that other countries have gone through – for example other Catholic countries.
AM: There are still countries where this goes on. There is Poland, and there is Mexico. We’ve been there, and it’s been difficult and inspiring. You feel like you’re wanted. You become the voice of the people that have no voice. And when you have the feeling that you are doing something so important, you have to go on doing this. That’s the most rewarding thing. The film works because it echoes in our collective subconscious.
SC: Romania is still on the fringes of Europe. Do you worry that there is still this prejudice against Eastern Europeans, that films like David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises perpetuate these clichés about crime, gangsters, etc?
AM: Like you said, they are clichés. If someone wants to steal or rape or kill they will do it no matter what the colour of their skin or their nationality. The problem is that we do it on a bigger scale – of course the wars that we’re engaged in are far more dangerous for society. We need to focus on the bigger issues.
SC: Would you be interested in making a film about the war in Iraq?
AM: Definitely. For me, talking about it, or making movies, or doing theatre, or painting, or composing new music – any way of expressing yourself through art is another step towards understanding, and we need to understand, because we’ll destroy each other if we continue in this way.
Interview by Sarah Cronin