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Monday, May 17, 2010

Unsung Performances: Anamaria Marinca, 4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days

Foreign language performances always have a difficult time gaining recognition in English speaking countries. Every once in a while a performance is able to transcend the language barrier but more often than not a great performance comes and goes without ever being embraced. Anamaria Marinca’s performance in 4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days (a film which itself failed to reap the recognition it so richly deserved) falls into the latter category, receiving notices at a couple of film festivals and being rewarded by the London Film Critics but going unnoticed anywhere else. Perhaps if the film hadn’t come out in the same year as La Vie En Rose, Marinca might have had better success but with critics and awarding groups already in love with Marion Cotillard’s performance as Edith Piaf, Marinca ended up being pushed aside (because, of course, you can’t recognize two foreign language performances, especially when you can recognize the normally brilliant Cate Blanchett for an over the top turn in Elizabeth: The Golden Age instead).

As Otilia, Marinca carries 4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days on her shoulders. Though it is Otilia’s friend Gabriela who is ostensibly the subject of the story, which concerns her attempt to get an illegal abortion, it is Otilia who emerges as the dominant and driving force of the narrative. She is a character who takes charge, commanding the situation and guiding it to the desired conclusion against several obstacles, including Gabriela herself. The decisions that Gabriela has made – not least of which is choosing the seedy Bebe, who demands sexual favours in addition to cash, to perform the procedure – seem geared towards putting both herself and Otilia in the worst possible situation. Otilia is forced to improvise in several instances, scrambling to keep things together while her friend seems content to sit back and simply let things happen.

Gabriela is a fascinating character in her own right, one whose motivations are never entirely clear and one who is remarkably passive given how personal the circumstances of the story are to her, but Otilia is the character to whom the film continually finds itself drawn. She might be doing nothing more than listening but Marinca captivates even in stillness. When Otilia needs to leave Gabriela’s side following Bebe’s work, the film follows her, joining her boyfriend’s family at the most uncomfortable dinner party ever. Again she is the picture of stillness while things happen around her and again she is the one on whom the camera inevitably focuses. As an audience we experience these situations through her; she is our point of identification and the implicit bond between character and audience is acknowledged in the film's final shot when Otilia breaks the fourth wall as if to ask us if we can believe what's just happened.

What Marinca accomplishes with this role is nothing short of amazing. There is not a single false moment, no gesture that feel anything less than authentic. She is totally at home in the character of Otilia and gives what is easily one of the best cinematic performances of the last 10 years. 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is a film worth recommending for many reasons but Marinca's performance has got to be at the top of the list.


Philip Concannon said...

Great write-up, Norma. When I did my performances of the decade list at the end of last year I had Marinca's performance in my top ten. Her work is absolutely riveting, particularly in the stunning dinner party sequence.

R. D. Finch said...

Norma, as I recall, this film did receive some recognition in the form of awards for best foreign language film from several critics' groups. I wasn't such a fan of the movie as most, but I absolutely agree with your admiration of Marinca's brilliant performance. She did indeed carry the movie on her shoulders, and her acting during that dinner scene you refer too, even though it was largely reactive, was just amazing. Many critics seem to love "chameleon" performances like Cotillard's in "La Vie en Rose," and there's no doubt about the effort she put into her performance, but I'd take Marinca's more honest and affecting characterization over Cotillard's laborious impersonation any day (and I'm a big fan of the real Piaf). A really nice analysis of both the character and the performance.

Shubhajit said...

Wow, very well said. 4 Months... was indeed a terrific film, and boasted of stupendous performances in front of the camera, least of all being Marinca's turn as Otilla. I agree that her's was one of the greatest acting performances in the last decade.

In fact, all the other actors were really good too - esp. the girl who played the gullible Gabita, and the guy who played the seedy Mr. Bebe (he was equally good in Police, Adjective too). Yeah, the movie deserved a lot of recognition than it did.

On hindsight, 2007 might have easily been the best year of the last decade, what with movies like 4 Months..., No Country for Old Men, Diving Bell & Butterfly, Zodiac, Edge of Heaven, Assassination of Jesse James..., Flight of the Red Balloon, Katyn, I'm Not There, Persepolis, There Will Be Blood, The Darjeeling Limited, Atonement, Grindhouse, Eastern Promises, etc. Some year!!!

Norma Desmond said...

@Philip Concannon: The dinner party scene is great all around - one of the most memorable individual scenes I've seen in the last few years.

@R.D. Finch: I'm actually a fan of Cotillard's performance but it's certanily a lot showier than what Marinca has to work with.

@Shubhajit: There's no question in my mind that 2007 was the best year of the last decade - a lot of instant classics came out that year.

M. Carter @ the Movies said...

Yes, Flick Chick. YES.

This instantly became one of my favorite films -- partly because of Cristian Mingiu's stunning shots (like nothing I've ever seen!) and mostly because of Marinca. That scene at the dinner table, with the camera trained on her face capturing her growing discomfort, took my breath away. She always found the right tone in every scene, and she never went over the top (easy to do in a movie about abortion). The expression on her face as she berates Gabita for lying is priceless.