Swashbuckling Pirates with a romantic flair. A cartoon green ogre and his fairy-tale adventures. The last installment of the wizard-boy films of which we can't seem to get enough. These are the summer movie offerings that millions of Americans will spend their days consuming over the coming heat-drenched months. A film that tackles the subject of illegal abortion in Romania? Maybe not. But at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival it was the winner of the highest honor – the coveted Palm D'or prize — and with beauty and realism has much to say.
The film does have a bit of a fairy-tale journey itself. 4 Luni, 3 Saptamini si 2 Zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) was written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. The film was produced with an extremely low-budget and, according to Mungiu, almost didn't get made:
"Six months ago we didn't have any money to make it," Mungiu said from the stage of the Grand Lumiere Theatre.
But what's got a lot of people talking is its portrayal of two young women's experiences when trying to access an illegal abortion in 1987 in a Romania under the Nicolae Ceausescu dictatorship. At the time, two years prior to the revolution that would ultimately overthrow Ceausescu, it was a country that had seen tens of thousands of women over the previous twenty-one years surrender their lives to illegal abortion. In 1966, Ceausescu issued Decree 770 — outlawing all contraception and abortion for women under 40 (exempting those women who had already done their state-issued duty and birthed four or more children). The decree was ordered so that Ceausescu could ensure a healthy workforce for the future.
According to Planned Parenthood:
From 1966 onward, procreation became a civic duty for all fertile Romanian women. As encouragement, Ceausescu bestowed extraordinary titles upon "dutiful," childbearing women – "Heroine Mother" for having 10 or more children, "Maternal Glory" for having seven to nine children, and the "Maternity Medal" for having five or six children. Between 1967 and 1972, more than two million "children of the decree" were born.
Maybe Bush just needed to title his proposal — the one that encouraged women on welfare to marry in order to duck poverty — with something catchy?
But this decree eerily turned out to contribute quite directly to his downfall. Again, Planned Parenthood lays out the history:
Thousands of children of the decree were abandoned by families who could no longer care for them, as were disabled or mentally ill children. The population of orphanages and state-run institutions swelled after 1966, and as Romania's economy withered in the 1980s, so did these children's living conditions.
Twenty years later many of those "decree babies" — now grown & angry with the kind of lives Romania under Ceausescu had given them — took to the streets to fight against and ultimately overthrow Ceausescu.
The film follows a young woman and her friend as they struggle to obtain and pay for an unsafe, illegal abortion for the young woman.
Mungiu has been quoted as saying that he "wanted women to think about the moral issues of a termination rather than about ‘getting caught', as under communism." While I could not find any other quotes that speak directly to the issue of abortion attributed to the director, it is disturbing to read that, despite the atrocities committed under Ceausescu which resulted in 80% of maternal deaths attributed to illegal abortion, Mungiu still feels the need to speak to women — Romanian women — about the "consequences" of their decisions.
He did also stress that the film was intended to highlight the broader concept — the extent to which the Ceasescu dictatorship controlled even the most intimate aspects of life. However, he went on to say, "'People have a tendency of avoiding and thinking about what they don't like,"… "People have to think of their consequences." And by "people" I assume he means the women who were forced into these inhumane circumstances by a dictator who believed women's bodies should be state-run and state-controlled.
As one Romanian woman who has viewed the film wrote, "The decree took many women by surprise, and for some years, many children, either unwanted or unexpected were born. In 1989, when the Revolution happened, the children from the first wave of the decree were around 20 years old, and most of them [sic] fighted in the streets. Even the squad that executed the dictator included some young soldiers of the same generation! That is why this abortion problem in the years of the dictatorship is a significant one for so many Romanians, including Cristian Mungiu who, guess what, was born in 1968…"
4 Luni, 3 Saptamini si 2 Zile has been hailed as a "remarkable mixture of candor and indirection" and ultimately magnifies the plight of all Romanian women victimized under a dictatorship that sought to control every aspect of women's fertility and reproduction. The film is a powerful and visually stunning reminder of the inevitable outcome when women's reproductive rights are stripped away.