Crikey. What a cinema experience. Traumatic isn’t the word. Ok, so what do you expect when you decide to watch a Romanian film about abortion? Certainly not a laugh-a-minute rom-com, with hilarious misunderstandings and a slap-stick interlude where people slip up on some mess and everyone has a good giggle. No, we knew this was going to be a tough-one, but with critics praising (although as the shitey Dylon biog proved, that isn’t always a good sign) and awards folk prowling (Golden Globe nominated, and potentially Oscar, although we’ll find out more this week) this was a film that had to be checked out. Plus, how smart do I look watching a Romanian film eh? Go on, say it. I’m well clever me. I can read words on the screen and everything.
4-3-2 (as all the cool kids dub it) is justly praised in most respects, tackling an uncomfortable subject and setting it in 80’s Romania where such things are illegal and could land you a jail sentence. But meek student Gabriela is desperate, and enlists best friend Otilia to help her in her plight. The film is set over just one day, and follows the girls from their initial preparations, through to the event itself and subsequent aftermath. But just when you thought things couldn’t be bleak enough, their enlisted medical “helper” Bebe, a quiet middle-aged bloke in a nice jumper, throws a few extra unpleasant conditions their way. Vera Drake he ain’t, let’s just put it that way.
Using an unusual method of mostly static shots and lengthy scenes makes it feel in parts like you’re watching a play, and adds to the uncomfortable realism of it all. It works perfectly in places, especially during the price negotiation scene between Bebe and the girls, as the slow realisation of the real cost dawns on both girls. As each scene advances towards the inevitable, your growing tension matches that of Gabriela and it all makes for a very powerful experience. As I sat there watching Bebe unpack a variety of implements, I knew very much what was to come, and was pretty certain that actually I didn’t want to see it. But I was trapped, powerless to stop watching. It reminded me of a time I went on the Viper rollercoaster - the tallest looping coaster in the world - and suddenly realised as the train began to advance up the hill that actually I didn’t really want to go on it, and that getting into that seat was a really bad idea. But the restraints meant I couldn’t get off, and so I miserably watched as the train got higher and higher towards the unavoidable conclusion. I nearly blacked out on that first drop, but the rest was quite fun.
Speaking of blacking out, the main component of my traumatic cinema experience wasn’t the aborted foetus staring at me from the screen, but the petrifying antics of one of my companions, who is under strict instructions never to do that ever again. Ever. Thankfully all became well, but such activities meant I missed a small chunk of the middle of this film, and means that I’m not completely able to assess the film in full. Frankly, though, I don’t think I missed too much, and the general gist of the film - that of friendship, hardship and unrelenting awful occurrences - still came across strong. Amazing performances, bold direction and an undeniably powerful effect, 4-3-2 is certainly a remarkable piece of film. But not one that left me with any new thoughts, that I’d clamour to watch again, or that I’d particularly recommend to anyone else, unless I wanted them to think I was dead clever. Or a bit sick. So, bit of a struggle this one. I’ll settle for a CF0 rating, I think. Go on the Viper rollercoaster instead, though. It’s a lot quicker.