JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

[1] Ostalgia is the anglicization of the German Ostalgie, a portmanteau of the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia).[return to page 1 of essay]

[3] In the early 1990s, Romanian television ran a documentary series titled The Memorial of Pain. The show reported on the injustices of the communist regime and their effect on real and potential political opponents. While the series had a strong impact, it never convincingly argued for the existence of a Romanian Gulag. Its organizing principle was moral outrage.

[4] Cesare Zavattini, the neorealist theorist, is known to have suggested that the plot of a truly realist film represent a day in the life of an ordinary man with minimal dramatic effects.

[5] Zavattini was referring to the found story in the tradition of French literary naturalism, a story that one has discovered in the newspaper. The story of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days could not have been reported in the communist press. Abortion was not only illegal, but the regime tried to present it as inexistent. Abortion stories circulated in an alternative, word-of-mouth sphere. Mungiu, however, emphasized that his script was based on a true story, “found” through this alternative route. See also Richard Porton, “Not Just an Abortion Film: An Interview with Cristian Mungiu.” Cineaste. March, 2008.
http://www.cineaste.com/articles/
not-just-an-abortion-film.htm
.

[6] This incremental shift of interest from contemporary plots to incursions into the Ceausescu era spurs a dialectical turn in the relationship between past and present. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is very aware of the past. Its elderly hero, Mr. Lazarescu, is a product of the days gone by. Everything that happens to him in the present is in dialogue with the past, confirming the Zavattini/ Bazin thesis that, in realist film, history surfaces like a spectral presence in the details of the everyday.

[7] Hayden White, “The Modernist Event.” The Persistence of History, Vivian Sobchack (Ed.), New York: Routledge, 1996, 21.

[8] 4 Months…’ anthropologic effort to recuperate the everyday is suggested by the film’s subtitle, “Memories form the Golden Age.” (This is how the sycophantic media called Ceausescu’s last years in power.) The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was also envisioned as part of a series, “Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest.”

[9] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991, 82-83.

[10] Adi, the boyfriend, is both inside and outside the dorm niche. He is a helper, but he is also one of the many domineering figures of this film. Otilia trusts her roommate, Gabita, more than she trusts him, although marriage is or has been in the cards.

[11] In 1966, the Romanian state passed a law (known colloquially as “The Decree”) banning abortion. The cruelty of this law comes to the fore only if we understand that it regulated birth control in a society with a rudimentary culture of contraception. Communism did not make much progress in reforming Romania’s sexual politics and gender dynamics. It was mainly a woman’s responsibility to “take care” not to become pregnant, and expectant unmarried women and single mothers were stigmatized. The only legally approved contraceptive was the condom, but it was difficult to purchase, of poor quality, and was regarded, in a macho culture, as a pleasure spoiler. Contraceptive pills were available on the black market, but their quality was questionable, and, in the absence of reliable medical counsel, few women knew how to use them properly or how they would affect their health. In terms of social engineering, the abortion law was successful. It increased birthrates and created what is known in Romania as the “Decree” generation (Otilia belongs to it and so does Mungiu). Ironically, this generation would be in the avant-garde of the 1989 revolt against the very regime that produced it. [return to page 2 of essay] 

[12] The irony of the abortionist’s name should not escape us. In Romanian, like in French, “bebe” is a synonym for infant.

[13] Mihai Fulger, Noul Val in cinematografia romaneasca (The New Wave in Romanian Cinema), Bucharest: Art, 2006, 81-82.

[14] A.O. Scott, “New Wave on the Black Sea,” New York Times, January 20, 2008.

[15] In a recent review essay, Ioana Uricaru points to one of 4 Months…’ most suggestive visual metaphors: the close shot of a fish tank at the beginning of the film. According to Uricaru, this image encodes the director’s vision of the characters’ entrapment in the communist project. The pre-1989 world “is just an immense fish tank, into which the audience is looking through the transparent cinematic fourth wall.” We could add here that the fish tank could also function as a metaphor of the link between film and museum exhibit. Ioana Uricaru, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: The Corruption of Intimacy.” Film Quarterly, Summer 2008, 14


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