Saturday, February 07, 2009

For the girlies

I hang out with little girls a lot. They're E's friends, but I get along famously with most of them. Today, we had a party at home and I saw some of the girlies after a long time. I was struck by how they're growing.
The sudden terrible consciousness of their...and others bodies. Preteen and teen years are intensely physical. There's Scrawny who was a complete tomboy and now, at almost 12 years of age has breasts and prefers to sit and read on her own, because 'there's only so much you can do with a bunch of boys.' There are the 8 and 9 year olds who giggle at words like 'romantic' and 'kiss.' They never say the words out loud, they whisper and say, 'it's like what happened on Hannah Montana.'
I remember doing that. I didn't giggle. But I whispered, and I wrote. I had a diary with big, red hearts on it and it had pages and pages of everyday whisperings and wonderings and little love skits. Those were the years when love meant Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, when pictures of Shah Rukh Khan (he wasn't SRK in those days!) papered the walls of my room, when I was totally sure that love affairs were exactly what I saw sitting in Priya Cinema with tears running down my cheeks.
The laughter changes. We still giggle, but it lacks the awkwardness of twelve years ago. These girlies will soon be having endless phone conversations and send SMS's about everything. They'll be walking and dancing while wondering who's watching them and what the watching means. There will be competition about bodies and clothes and dating and sex. And there will be the Girlfriends.
And there will be more giggling and endless talks. And hugs of course.
And boys who will mess up their heads endlessly because that's just what boys do! I hope I'll always know what the girlies are up to.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fanspeak: 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days

There are movies that make me think of perfectly made toast with just-about-melted better. And there are movies that cause me to be perfectly still and feel pain as though someone had cut between my toes.
4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is one of my favourite examples of the latter kind. Set in Communist Romania of the 1980's, the film is about two college roommates who try to organise an illegal abortion (Communist Romania had a natalist policy against abortion). Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is four months pregnant and desperate not to be. Her roommate Otilia (Ana Maria Marinca) is straight-spoken and gets things done. Together, they book a hotel room for three days and enlist the help of a doctor to perform the necessary operation. Dr Bebe (note the irony of the name!) is a businessman. He wants a hotel where he will not be asked for his ID, he wants sex in return for his services. 'Did I mention money when we spoke?' he asks scathingly of Gabita when she timidly tells him they do not have a lot of cash handy.
Otilia has sex with the doctor, the operation is performed. Meanwhile, Otilia has to go to her boyfriend's house for his mother's birthday. She sits there, listening to the elders talking, is reprimanded for accepting a cigarette and eventually leaves and goes back to the hotel. Gabita has 'gotten rid' of the foetus and she asks Otilia to dispose of it. This is perhaps the most mesmerising and horrifying scene in the movie. Before this, there is not much shown that could be called graphic. Aside from a bare backside in the women's showers in the dorm and Otilia coming into the bathroom naked from the waist down after sex with Dr Bebe, nothing is 'shown.'
But after Gabita tells Otilia to take the foetus away, the camera focusses on Otilia's face as she stares at the dead pile of flesh.
I was half-expecting that it would cut to a safe shot of Otilia disposing of a trash bag in which, we assume, the foetus is. But such assumptions are not allowed. The camera swings around suddenly and makes us see what Otilia is seeing. I don't know what was used to create that 'foetus' but it sure as hell worked. I was sickened, shocked, exhilarated at the boldness. All I could think was, 'that is as new and as naked as flesh can ever get...'
The girls wrap up the foetus and Otilia puts it in her bag and leaves to dispose of it. We see her walking the streets of Bucharest at night, her bag hung across her body as it has been the entire film. She is tense and in a hurry, but my eyes never left the bag as it bounced slightly against her hip.
The foetus is disposed of, and the last scene is in the restaurant of the hotel. The two girls are looking at menus, and Otilia tells Gabita that they will never speak of this again. It is a brilliant climax.
This is bare-boned storytelling at its barest. It made me think of bodies, of how little control it is possible to have over them. The Romania Gabita and Otilia lived in was pro-population building, hence Gabita could not choose to get rid of her baby without going against the law. The film does not speak of irresponsibility on her part. There are no morals in 4 weeks.
There is a scene where Otilia asks her boyfriend what he would do if she were pregnant. 'I told you not to come inside me last week!' she chastises him. He simply replies that he would marry her if such a thing happened, and since she is not pregnant, there is no point in talking about it. A conversation that is hardly uncommon, but in light of Gabita's plight, becomes a palpable fear.
I love Otilia's character. She is willing to go to whatever lengths and refuses to whine about it. Nor does she glorify herself. She goes to her boyfriend's house in the same clothes she took off to have sex with the doctor. She isn't apologetic, nor does she feel any need to tell him about it. 'I was helping Gabita to get an abortion,' is all she says.
Writer-director-producer Cristian Mungiu says this movie is based on a real story he once heard and could never forget. This must be one of many stories from that period. Women, their friendships and their very personal ways of getting around political dictates.