The latest acclaimed film from the unlikely cinematic hotbed of Romania, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the European Film Award, and kudos from just about every critics’ group in the USA. Everyone has hailed it as an unflinching study of the options of two women in a country in which abortion is illegal. Given the Motion Picture Academy’s track record with serious foreign films, however, no one was too surprised when 4 Months, which Romania had submitted (each country may submit one movie), failed to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. (It didn’t even make the top 10.) The Academy’s snub was one subject I wanted to discuss in my telephone chat with Mungiu. That and some intriguing details from the film, like, what’s up with the orange Tic Tacs?
How are things in Bucharest?
I just got back last night from a very long flight from Japan. It’s snowy.
A lot of people here are embarrassed and angry that your film got dissed by the Oscars. How are you taking it?
Well, we had this expectation because we had this wonderful response from the press. And because the film was very well received in festivals and because we got a lot of nominations and awards from different critical associations in the States, we had these expectations, and we thought it was maybe likely that the voting members of the Academy would have the same opinion, so we’re disappointed, to be honest. And the other thing is that now I understand that they are considering changing this regulation [i.e., the nominating process]. It’s all right if these people have different taste. The problem is that the group of people who vote doesn’t represent the taste of all the members of the Academy.
On the other hand, another film about a similar topic — Juno — got tons of nominations.
Well honestly, I haven’t seen the film. And then, you can’t really compare, because it’s a very different situation, and you can’t really compare a film spoken in English with a film spoken in some other language. It’s normal that in the US most of the attention will be on English-spoken films, which is very understandable.
This subject is difficult and polarizing. But what was really important for us while doing the promotion of the film in the US was to make it clear that the film we screened doesn’t carry any kind of message, neither for or against abortion. It presents a story set in a very complex kind of environment, and it invites you to have an opinion. So I don’t think it could be offending either people pro or against abortion. I hope that we are going to reach our most important goal, which is to have as many people as possible see the film and have their own opinion.
There’s been a recent spate of comedies about this subject in America, including Juno and Knocked Up. Do you think 4 Months is an appropriate treatment of it?
I’ve made a lot of comedy in my life before this film, but it never appeared to me, in connection with the story I was trying to tell, that a comedy — it’s not about humor here — that a comedy would have been appropriate. I wanted to be realistic, and I thought that this is the way I want to speak about this now. And this should be generating and stimulating people to think about something important. For all of us to have our own opinion, this is what I want. It’s not like telling people what to do.
There are some funny moments in the movie, though.
I don’t have anything against humor. But you know, there’s a huge difference between humor and comedy. Comedy lacks — from my perspective, comedy is something that creates laughter lacking realism and placing the discourse of the film from the beginning on a very different tone. My main concern was to be very believable, very faithful to the story, and to present in a very realistic way both the society and the period in which this happened and this specific story.
A comedy also implies a happy ending, or at least an ending of some sort, and you don’t really have either one in your film.
Because I don’t have much to do with this kind of filmmaking, at least not for this project. So we never aimed to please the audience, we wanted to tell a very true story in a very direct and honest way. Assuming from the beginning that people might be displeased with what they considered to be the truth.
My editor saw Juno and 4 Months in the same week and noticed that in both films orange Tic Tacs play a prominent role. Can you explain that uncanny coincidence?
Orange Tic Tacs?
Yes. Otilia buys them in the commissary.
Unless, you know, pregnant women crave orange Tic Tacs, I don’t have any other explanation.