The superb Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days uses the subject of abortion the way Brokeback Mountain dealt with homosexual love: as a springboard to examine human nature in extremis. In the American movie, thwarted love took its toll over the decades, and the long passage of time turned the screw of the psychological torture machine in which the lovers suffered. By contrast, 4 Months takes place within twelve hours—from midafternoon to night—and its protagonists, the college roommates Găbiţă and Otilia, undergo so much in so brief a time that we feel we are looking at life in a pressure cooker.
The pressure is provided by Nicolae Ceauşescu, although the dictator is never once mentioned by name in the film. In order to increase Romania’s population from 19 million to 25 million, and so provide good little worker ants for the state, Ceaus¸escu banned both contraception and abortion without doing anything significant for child care, prenatal education, infant nutrition, or preschool resources. “The fetus is the property of the entire society,” was his dictum. But his society, newly and incompetently industrialized, was so sterile and hardscrabble that many a woman must have had doubts about procreation. Backstreet abortions became common and many women died along with their fetuses.