Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (IFC Films)
When the Cannes Film Festival handed out its highest award last May, no one expected the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (opening February 22 at Landmark’s Ken Cinema ) to win. That’s because Romania has a small film industry that hasn't exported many movies. But the movies they have been exporting of late have been setting a high standard. In addition to 4 Months , there have been The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest . Maybe not enough to constitute a full on new wave of Romanian cinema but it's definitely building a swell.
The title 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days refers to how far along Otilia's friend is in the pregnancy she wants to terminate. But it's 1987 and the two women are living in Communist Romania where abortion is illegal. Otilia's friend Gabita is so anxious about her situation that she seems almost incapacitated. So she asks Otilia to finalize the terms of a black market abortion. This includes extensive negotiations for a hotel room.
Matthew C. Scallon
February 29, 2008 at 06:04 AM
"So the issue in the film is not abortion but rather what it's like to live under Communist rule, especially for women. " Sure, Beth. It's not about abortion. The title of the movie comes from the gestational age of the baby who was being murdered by the abortionist. But it's not about abortion. The film is set in the only Communist country where abortion was illegal, ignoring the fact that, in every other Communist country, not only was abortion legal, but it was the most common medical procedure performed on women, most like our own country. But it's not abortion. And while a pro-life film, "Bella," winner of 2007 Toronto Film Festival's People's Choice Award, was summarily ignored by you and other "progressive" film critics and this snoozer can't have enough said about it by the entire public radio ilk, it still is not about abortion. Whenever some anti-lifer like yourself says that it's not about abortion, it's about abortion. Use whatever euphemism you need to rationalize to love affair with the wholesale slaughter of innocent human life. At the end of the day, it's still about abortion.
Beth Accomando from San Diego
February 29, 2008 at 05:11 PM
Before you start firing up any conspiracy theories about the press ignoring "pro-life" films let me point out a couple facts: I did not review Bella because the studio poorly promoted it and failed to have the kind of press screenings that make reviewing films in a timely manner possible. So complain to the studio for poorly backing its own film. 4 Months, which was Romania's entry for Best Foreign Film and took the top prize at Cannes, was well handled by its distributor and screeners for the small foreign film were readily available. Studios that know how to promote their films do get better coverage. Second, did you happen to read any of the positive reviews I gave to Waitress, Knocked Up and Juno -- all three of which had central female characters who had unwanted pregnancies and who chose to have their babies not abort them? But I guess that wouldn't fit in neatly with your stereotype of me as a "anti-lifer." Plus all three of those films were covered extensively by the mainstream press and many critics placed those films on their ten best lists. Hollywood had a very pro-life year but apparently you don't feel that's worth mentioning either. But maybe your point is that ONLY pro-life scenarios should be allowed in movies and any other point of view needs to be censored or labeled "anti-life." One of the reasons the woman in 4 Months has an abortion is because the society she lives in does not allow a young single woman to have a means of raising a child on her own, she would have been ostracized and unable to find work. Her friend discusses this and shows that it is not an easy or light decision, and it is a decision not based on the fact that this woman wants to have an abortion but because she can see no other option. The film is about lack of choice within a broad social context. It's not just about abortion. Although, the three mainstream Hollywood movies had characters that chose to keep their babies I would not define any of those movies as pro-life films or being about the abortion issue. So too I feel that 4 Months is not a film about the abortion debate. It is a story in which an abortion occurs but there is so much more than that going on in the film that to call it an abortion film is simply limiting and unfair to the other themes addressed in the film. Liking 4 Months is not promoting "the wholesale slaughter of innocent human life." If that's all you took away from my review or if you think that is all the film has to say, then I'm sorry you have chosen to limit yourself to that single issue. Thanks for your comment.
Matthew C. Scallon
March 02, 2008 at 05:36 AM
testing to see if I'm being blocked from responding
Matthew C. Scallon
March 02, 2008 at 05:38 AM
Dear Beth, No, thanks for your comment. I haven't felt this good since I went to a restaurant in Spain and ate paella for the first time. You've left so much in front of me, I don't know where to begin. First, in regard to press screenings, do you mean to tell me that you have never reviewed a movie where the distributor didn't give a press screening? You don't have to respond to me; I don't want to embarrass you. Just be honest with yourself. Next, on the hit parade is your statements, âlet me point out a couple facts,â? immediately followed by, in regard to âBella,â? âthe studio poorly promoted it and failed to have the kind of press screenings that make reviewing films in a timely manner possible.â? I minored in philosophy, and I'm a scientist. A fact is a statement which can be proven or disproven. The latter is not a fact; it's an opinion. The fact is that the studio promoted the movie by, among other things, advertising to churches and giving block discounts to churches so that congregants could see the movie more inexpensively, the kind of promotion which was quite successful with several previous movies. That is a fact. You say that that's a poor promotion tactic. That's your opinion âwhich, of course, you are entitled to have, especially since no one on staff at KPBS probably goes to any of those churches-- but it's still not a fact.
Matthew C. Scallon
March 02, 2008 at 05:41 AM
Now, to your so-called Year of the Pro-lifer, would that would be so. You described three movies where the mothers choose not to have abortions, following that up by saying, âHollywood had a very pro-life year.â? Then, a paragraph later, you say, in regard to those movies, âI would not define any of those movies as pro-life films or being about the abortion issue.â? Maybe in the insular surroundings of KPBS, where no one's knows any pro-lifers, much less knows someone who knows anyone who's a pro-lifer, such double-talk makes perfect sense. Either that, or someone needs an editor. You decide. But, surprisingly enough, I actually agree with you: those aren't pro-life movies, so, to answer your earlier declarative, no, they don't count. The closest any of those movies come is in that pablum called âKnocked Up,â? where the mother and father have the Sonogram Moment, and, even there, no one states why seeing a heart beating on a monitor should cause such a charge of heart, no pun intended. You see, at the risk of rehashing old episodes of âMurphy Brown,â? just because someone decides not to have an abortion doesn't render that decision pro-life. Certainly, I'd support such a move, since it's a step in the right direction, but a pro-life decision recognizes the humanity of the pre-born, realizes that the brutality of the abortion procedure far out-ways any hardship the biological parents may face and seeks out support from compassionate sorts who work to ameliorate such hardships. Put simply, none of those movies, including the pro-life-but-not-really-pro-life movies, answer the question, âWhy is abortion a difficult decision?â? After all, we don't get this bent out of shape about root canal, the procedure to which anti-lifers routinely compare abortion.
Matthew C. Scallon
March 02, 2008 at 05:43 AM
Now, for four decades, we pro-lifers have had to endure your side calling us âanti-choice,â? and that's been the nicest thing your side has called us. We pro-lifers are human, just like the pre-born your side likes to kill, and our feelings can be hurt on occasion, but we have learned to roll with the verbal punches. However, you get called âanti-lifeâ? one time, and you fly into a self-righteous tirade that leaves you abandoning all journalistic decorum, positing the ability to read my mind, accusing me of censorship for dare stating that a movie about getting is, in fact, about abortion and resorting to yelling. I feel sad for you; 35 years of having Supreme Court decisions go your way has left your side a wee bit thin-skinned. Finally, as I back away from the paella you served up for me, I can't help but notice one ingredient was missing. I noticed you didn't reply to my assertion that libertine access to abortion was an integral part of Communist rule, with Romania standing out as the one exception. My statement is historically accurate, and your statement was not. Now, either I sent into such a blind rage that you couldn't see straight and just missed my statement, or you realized that I, a lowly pro-lifer, was right and that you can't humble yourself to admit it. That's okay; I'll let you off the hook by making a simple request. You see, I'm trying to put together funding for my own independent film. It's about a modern-day Chinese couple who try to escape Communist bureaucrats and U.N. âfamily planningâ? workers who are forcing them into have an abortion. Just so that I can be prepared, please let me know how my distributor can get in touch with you. I don't want to miss the privilege of your review.
Beth Accomando from San Diego
March 03, 2008 at 05:42 PM
Matthew, To your "comment" about seeing if you are being blocked -- we don't block any comments. I don't know what you are used to or how you would run a blog but we do not censor ideas. (Comments that use obscenities are held in moderation until the person posting can be contacted, but other than that no comments are ever blocked.) Your fear of having your comments blocked reveals that years of court decisions not going your way has left you a wee bit "thin-skinned" as well. I didn't realize that the point of your first comment was to get me to respond to the fact that unlike other communist countries Romania made abortion illegal. Yes, you are right on that point but it doesn't change my opinion of the film or what the film was trying to say. I don't know what statement of mine you are referring to as false. I never said abortion was illegal in other communist countries or that the film or I were making comments about communism around the globe. I said that in the world the film presents -- which is just Romania -- the characters are denied choice on a variety of levels, and it was that lack of freedom in broad terms that the film was addressing, not just the lack of legal abortions. The film does not take a pro or anti-abortion stance. If you see the film as being about abortion, that's your opinion of the film, and it's one that I would disagree with. Romeo and Juliet has two teen suicides but that doesn't make it a film about teen suicide, it's about much more than that. I would like to know if there are any films in which an abortion occurs that you would not label an abortion film or would any film in which an abortion occurs be an abortion film? In regards to press screenings -- because the goal of a review is to come out on the day a film opens or before -- I generally review only films that are press screened. That is what most critics do and studios understand that. That's why studios provide us with the opportunity to see their films in advance if they want us to review them. On occasion I do go to see a film on opening day and run a review later but that's not ideal. With 4-6 films opening each week I'm not embarrassed to say that being able to see a film before it opens does influence which films I review. Almost all films are screened in advance. In regards to Bella, I had no idea what the film was about so to suggest that I ignored it because it was pro-life is completely untrue. I did not review it because it simply got lost in the shuffle, overshadowed by films with better studio support. Promoting the film to churches may get people out to the theaters but it will not get press coverage. That's a marketing choice that a studio makes and for that film "word of mouth" might have been deemed better press than published reviews. So don't blame me for what is a studio's marketing strategy. More than 300 films come out in a year and I'm lucky if I can review about two-thirds of them. In regards to the films I mentioned in which women chose to see their pregnancies through to full term, I would not call these films pro-life but if you call Bella a pro-life film than I don't see why you would not consider these as pro-life films as well. These women did choose life, or is choosing life not enough for you to consider the choice to be pro-life? My point was that in none of the films I mentioned was abortion meant to be the central subject of the films. I would be curious if you have seen Lake of Fire, and if so then what do you think of that documentary that does directly address the issue of abortion in America. If you want to have a discussion about these films then I don't understand why you feel the need to make comments such as nobody at KPBS going to church or being pro-life? You criticize me for what you say is making assumptions about you, yet you make even broader assumptions about a staff of more than 100 KPBS people. Or have you done a survey of everyone who works here? Similarly, I did not accuse you of censorship but asked you if that was what you were implying in your comments. Did you object to the film or were you just upset because I described the film as not being about the issue of abortion? If you are serious about wanting a review from me I'm easy to reach. Although I'm not sure why you'd want me to review your film since you have labeled me an "anti-lifer" and seem to have no respect for me as a journalist, but then that's your choice. All you have to do is provide a screener or hold a screening that I can attend and I will gladly review your film. You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a screener to me at 5200 Campanile Drive, San Diego CA 92182. I am happy to cover and have covered many small independent films that filmmakers send directly to me. Your film sounds interesting. No matter what you may think, I am for freedom of choice -- that means the freedom to use and teach about contraception, the freedom to have a legal safe abortion and the freedom to have a baby -- and the freedom to make films that touch upon all those choices. I wish you the best of luck with your film and hope you secure your financing.
March 03, 2008 at 07:47 PM
"Your fear of having your comments blocked reveals that years of court decisions not going your way has left you a wee bit âthin-skinnedâ? as well." Fear? Hardly. As an engineer, I was merely testing the system. As you might have noticed from my comments about the "apostophe's," I know a few of things about computers. It seems as though, when I tried to submit my response earlier, it didn't seem to register in the comments. That's when I tested. Apparently, there is a length limit on the serrver, so I re-sent it in separate comments. Now, I could say something about assumptions, but let's not beat around that bush again, shall we? From the tet a tet we've had, I can see actually that we might --emphasize might-- have a meeting to the minds in regard to my understanding of your comment, "So the issue in the film is not abortion but rather what it's like to live under Communist rule, especially for women." I would read this more a function of life under the rule of Nicolae CeauÅescu, since this is a peculiar function of his rule rather than the rest of Communism, but I take your point. At the risk of bringing back painful memories of high-school freshman English class, if Romeo and Juliet were titled the Elizabethan equivalent of "Don't Fear the Reaper," with each act finding them trying different ways to achieve that end, then that play would have been about teen suicide. So, unless the title and the plot were meant to be ironic, and just the sub-title, I still contend the movie is about abortion. As a matter of fact, I can think of four movies off the top of my head where abortion is in some part of the movie, but I wouldn't call any of them "abortion movies," thank you for asking: "An Officer and a Gentleman," a really bad '80's teen movie which I believe was called "Gloria," (it had Ilan Michael-Smith from "Weird Science," which is the only reason I remember it, but, apparently imdb.com doesn't), "Teachers," and "Alfie." Please note I'm only counting the latter once. Does that help you? By the way, in all of those cases, the abortion didn't really help the plot, and, in fact, the abortion issue made a previously sympathetic character rather unlikeable to the audience (e.g., there was a noticeable gasp in the audience, mostly from women, when the abortion issue occured in "An Officer and a Gentleman"). Also, thank you for the information about how to get press coverage for an independent film. It's quite that media coverage and church attendance don't seem to overlap, especially since it's the same First Amendment which guarantees both. Perhaps, I'll use that a topic for another movie idea. I haven't seen Lake of Fire yet. With the birth of our son five months ago, we haven't seen much of anything which doesn't have a purple dinosaur in it (although he does like basketball games, too). I'll try to find it on DVD and e-mail you about what I thought of it. In regard to the KPBS staff, I said, "no one on staff at KPBS probably goes to any of those churches." I didn't say that no one goes to church; I said that they probably go to those churches where "Bella" was promoted. "Probably" is not a synonym for "absolutuely." One example of someone from KPBS not paying attention to what a pro-lifer says. My conjecture about no one at KPBS having knowledge of any pro-lifers (which is what I indeed said) comes not from any assumption of my part but from a twenty-year ordeal of listening to, attempting to participate in, and generally finding only negative response from KPBS. Everytime Kenny Goldberg (and his predecessors before him) covered abortion, the abortion industry talking points were as the facts of the case while the pro-life, if talked to all, were set up as the ones to investigated. When Tom Fudge (and his predecessor before him) would have shows touching on the right-to-life, most of the guests on the show were opposing the right to life, and nearly all of the callers were anti-life, with the pro-life being screened out (I know this because several call screeners have done this to me personally, stating that what I had to say was "irrelevant"). So, don't call it an assumption; it's an inference based upon long-time experience. As what would make a movie a pro-life movie, I have already wrote what in my previous comments. Maybe, this time, you'll read it, a pro-life movie "recognizes the humanity of the pre-born, realizes that the brutality of the abortion procedure far out-ways any hardship the biological parents may face and seeks out support from compassionate sorts who work to ameliorate such hardships." Yet another example of someone from KPBS not paying attention to what a pro-lifer says. I am serious about you reviewing my film. As one who enjoyed the irony of this film's subtitle, I thought you'd enjoy the irony. Where did I say that I didn't respect you as a journalist? What I said was that one name seemed to cause you to lose journalistic decorum. When I get things done (Lord knows when that will happen), you'll be the first contact. I, too, am for the freedom of choice: the freedom to choose the right thing. As Abraham Lincoln said in his debates with Stephen Douglas, "No one has the right to choose to do wrong."
March 03, 2008 at 09:01 PM
But who decides what constitutes "wrong?" I did read and hear your comment: "recognizes the humanity of the pre-born, realizes that the brutality of the abortion procedure far out-ways any hardship the biological parents may face and seeks out support from compassionate sorts who work to ameliorate such hardships." And I still do not understand why the films mentioned don't qualify. I think Juno does recognize the humanity of her unborn child -- the fingernail remark helped her to that as did the sounds of the fingernails tapping the sound of a heartbeat in the Women's Clinic. But she also realizes that she would not be a good parent and decides to give the baby to someone who would take better care. I think that's a pretty life affirming message. I think the other two films do the same but none of them tackle it as an issue. As for the title of 4 months, I do think it is ironic and it does what the filmmaker does -- point you in one direction while he talks about something else. He did give the trilogy of which this film is a part the title "Tales from the Golden Age," and I don't think he means that he thought Communism under Ceausescu was a golden time for Romania. Since you said you haven't seen many films since the birth of your baby, did you see 4 Months or base your comments on my review? Just curious. But I would be interested in what you think of Lake of Fire, which talks to people on both sides of the abortion debate but I think it is a film that will please neither side in the abortion debate. Let me know what you think. And thanks again for the comments. You can always voice an opinion here -- but don't try to post in rapid succession, that may have been what caused the problem you cited. I've had that happen but if you wait and submit again it goes through.
Beth Accomando from San Diego
March 03, 2008 at 09:34 PM
P.S. To clarify -- when I said "Promoting the film to churches may get people out to the theaters but it will not get press coverage," I meant that strictly in terms of getting a film critic to review your film. It may generate news in another way. But the bottom line is, I need to see a film in advance in order to write a review for a film on its opening day.
March 03, 2008 at 11:15 PM
"But who decides what constitutes 'wrong?' " On one level, I am grateful to my philosophers in college for equipping me with all the syllogisms and tautologies to fashion an answer to that question. But, that question hits at the very nature of our humanity. It's akin to Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, "What is truth?" You could just as easily ask, "Who decides if I'm a human being?" If I'm the only one who can decide that, can someone decide that I'm not? If they can, by what authority can they determine that I'm not a human being? And, if they have determined that I am not a human being, what are my consequences? I posit to you that, in a civilized society, we do not condone the killing of innocent human life. By this, I don't want to go down the rabbit hole of whether society can kill the guilty or whether society can excuse itself for accidentally killing innocent life in war or police chases. By innocent life, I mean one who has not committed any crime that society deems important enough to warrant death. The only offense the pre-born have committed, for lack of a better term, is the offense of being unwanted, inconvenient, or burdensome. If these offenses be capital offenses, then there wouldn't be a human being left on the planet, since all of us at some time in our lives have been unwanted, inconvenient, or burdensome. We already know this in our society. The Declaration of Independence says that the right to life is inalienable. The Fourteenth Amendment says that the right to life cannot be denied without due process. The pre-born have been denied due process for 35 years now. So, finally, to answer your original question, nature itself has determined what is wrong, and American society is long past infamy in shirking its responsibilities. Now, in all humility, with family obligations, I have based my opinion about "Juno," "Knocked Up," and "Waittress" on the opinions of reviewers, a meta-opinion, if you will. Those reviewers mostly played down whatever pro-life message may have been in those movies, so you have me second-guessing my source material. Hopefully, "Juno" and "Waittress" will be on DVD shortly, and, if my first impressions were wrong, expect a mea culpa on my part. Who knows, I might even try to sit through "4 Months." I'm still not watching "Knocked Up". Someone will have to convince me that viewing this film doesn't kill brain cells.
Beth Accomando from San Diego
March 04, 2008 at 01:21 AM
The problem, however, is that some people disagree about when life begins. You see it one way, but some see it differently. So that returns to the issue of who decides "wrong." I realize that we cannot probably agree on this point, which is I think the basis of why I am in favor of legal abortions and you are not. I hope I haven't misinterpreted your point of view or your position. I do hope you see Juno, it's the best of the three. Waitress is good not great , and you might reconsider Knocked Up. The trailers make it look gratingly bad and almost scared me off. But I really liked the relationship between Seth Rogen and his dad, played by Harold Ramis. They have a very nice scene in which Ramis basically confesses that he might not have been the best dad but he tried his best and he always loved his son, no matter what. That's a nice sentiment too rarely expressed. That's also what I liked about Juno, the parents love their daughter even when she makes mistakes. I found that refreshing, instead of the usual combative relationship between parents and teens. Thanks again for sharing your views.
March 04, 2008 at 01:59 AM
Dear Beth, I don't think you've misrepresented, but there might be a misunderstanding. My position on the right to life doesn't come from what "some people" say. Some people say just about anything, and most times wrong. Like Nat Hentoff, I came to the right of life by simply looking at the science. Ironically, I can thank Watson and Crick for my position. That first cell formed from my mother's egg and my father's egg, with its composite 46 chromosomes, was my biological big bang, as it were. Now, to the movies, which is what this is all about. What might warm me enough to watch "Knocked Up" (possibly as a movie on HBO, but I still don't myself driving to the DVD store for it) is whether or not the dad character played in this movie is astronomically different from the dad character he played in "American Pie." I accidentally saw that movie when I left the TV on and woke up to THAT.
March 04, 2008 at 02:00 AM
Typo: It should read "father's sperm." I freely admit it; I need an editor.
Beth Accomando from San Diego
March 04, 2008 at 04:24 PM
Knocked Up is not a gross out teen comedy, which is what American Pie was. And Harold Ramis wasn't the dad in that film, it was Eugene Levy. I don't know if that will change your mind. But give it a try on cable if it comes around.
March 05, 2008 at 02:17 AM
That's right. Eugene Levy. I got confused because they're both SCTV alumni. My bad!