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'4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days'

Romania, 1987: It's two years before the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship, and some 20 years after he had outlawed abortion — not from any moral objection, but in order to increase the country's birth rate and work force. But it's an Iron Curtain country, with a thriving black market in pretty much everything, and now two young women seek to terminate a pregnancy.

Spacy Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu) relies on her shrewder, more sensible friend Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) to make hotel arrangements, borrow the necessary cash, and fetch the symbolically named Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) to perform the abortion. Gabi is more pregnant than she's let on — she'd said two months, rather than the title's more accurate reckoning — which renders everything far more dangerous and increases the legal penalties.

With that in mind, Bebe demands more money, and the fact that the women don't have it doesn't keep him from exacting additional payment. When the deed is done and the piper paid, Otilia must swallow her fury and disgust and go to a prearranged dinner with her boyfriend's family. In her guarded opacity there, director Cristian Mungiu finds a perfect parallel for the ways Ceausescu's subjects camouflaged their wretchedness and anger — and this rivetingly brutal film expands from anguished domestic drama to portrait of a people.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.