Expectations can be such a bitch sometimes. Having won the Palme d'Or at the 60e Cannes Film Festival and Romania's official submission to the Oscars (well, that has to count for something right?), I went in with a lot of hope that I would be blown away, and blown away I was, except that the anti-climatic ending left me a bit wanting, not that it didn't serve its purpose, which allowed you to feel a little bit emptier akin to the weight on your shoulders given a massive lift, just like the characters'.
And expectations is perhaps the biggest bugbear to haunt Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and her pregnant friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who is looking into an illegal abortion to rid a fetus of the titular age. Otilia expects that as a friend to someone, she should assist Gabita in every way that she can, and the fact is she does, going a bit overboard too in my opinion, doing practically everything except being pregnant herself. If you need a project manager, then you'd expect Otilia to be a godsend with her plethora of skills. In Gabita, we see a girl who expected that Otilia would always be there to guard her rear, and in this respect, we see how someone would take somebody else for granted, and as the film progressed, see how this is so true, and so selfish of her as well with her unannounced movements.
Amongst the two friends, it is clear I prefer Otilia over Gabita, not that one's blonde nor that one has more screen time which enabled her to endear herself a lot more, and to share some common problems with the audience. What I like about her, is how street smart she was, quick thinking and innovative, having what is necessary to survive in a communist state of black markets and under table benefits. And her self-sacrifice (having little qualms with doing what has to be done, with absolutely no benefit to herself, and a lot to lose) knows no bounds as well, which left you wondering whether it is indeed plausible to find a friend as her, risking her neck just to ensure that you get to do something illegal and below the radar, and covering everything up.
Gabita on the other hand deserves to be slapped as the perennial stupid girl who got herself into a situation that can possibly be avoided with proper consideration. Then again she could be at her wits end, but that doesn't mean being absolutely selfish, and so ditzy and absent minded that the dangerous plan she has concocted had to involve higher risks. One things for sure, nobody should be leaving a person like her in charge of logistics, because nothing gets done, at all. And being a terrible liar too doesn't help her cause.
There's a sense of danger throughout the narrative, and Christian Mungiu's direction coupled with Oleg Mutu's cinematography never lets you forget that with frenetic pacing, and its grittiness, especially when Otilia has to leave her friend for a moment to attend to personal issues, and probably the entire 2nd half of the film where the clock gets ticking toward wondering if the plan has been executed successfully, and then leaving you exasperated when they hit potential roadblocks. You get worried for the two girls, in case they get found out, and the filmmakers eased you into those emotions almost effortlessly.
There are other issues thrown in as well, such as an examination into the relationship between Otilia and her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) which also plays on expectations of their roles on each other, once in a meeting in varsity and another in Adi's home, where they launch into discussions into the concerns of their sex life, which takes an unexpected toil on Otilia having to run an entire illegal operation on her own for her friend. Conflicts, responsibilities and blame get tossed around in their emotionally charged dialogue in a darkly lit bedroom. The scene at Adi's home with his family members and their friends also play in great contrast to the scene at the beginning in Otilia and Gabita's quarters, showing the state of affairs in the country, as well as that between the Haves and the Have-nots.
Much of the kudos of the film should go to Anamaria Marinca's performance in the film as well. As much as she is charismatic in her role, she brought about a sense of realism, of a woman at a crossroads wondering just how much more the distance she's willing to go for her friend, over and above that for herself, and willing to put her own personal issues on the line. She becomes almost like the benchmark for us to re-evaluate how we would assist others at their wits end, and how much would we expect from others when in distress.