Well, for one thing, I thought it was kind of amazing. The movie follows Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a college student trying to help her friend Gabita get an illegal late-term abortion in communist Romania in 1982. (According to IMDb, not only abortions but also contraception were illegal in Romania at that time.) Long story short, all sorts of things go wrong, many terrible things happen to everybody involved, and I ended the movie thanking god for Roe v. Wade despite the fact that I'm extremely unlikely to personally need an abortion. I'm not really concerned with the plot; if you want to know the details, watch it yourself. Although as IMDb also said, it's not for the faint of heart.
Otilia and Gabita
Anyway, the plot was kind of the least of the things that really struck me. The pacing was grueling: Otilia runs into obstacle after obstacle as she tries to arrange the hotel room and reach the abortionist, much of which is complicated by the fact that Gabita has been less than completely truthful with everyone involved. Each obstacle is surrounded by this almost unbearable tension, even the somewhat less fraught ones like trying to obtain a hotel room while a convention is in town. We watch Otilia haggling with the desk clerk, and it becomes clear that this fairly mundane interaction has become so much more than that, has in fact become a matter of life or death, and the director had no hesitation to let silences spin out and to show every detail of every interaction.
And I can't even think of how to explain what a great job I felt like Anamaria Marinca did; she was so convincing as somebody holding it together under ridiculous pressure, and she conveyed so much without really showing a whole lot of "normal" expression. In one of my favorite scenes, she's left Gabita in the hotel room waiting to miscarry so that she can go to her boyfriend's mother's birthday dinner. She's surrounded by this jovial group of bourgeois Romanians, not saying anything and looking like she's completely not there at all, not in any way related to anything that's going on. The scene lasts for quite a while (considering it has nothing to do with the plot) and her alienation just keeps becoming more and more pronounced.
There were other interesting points, like the total acceptance and usage of the black market, and numerous examples of people helping each other with very mundane things for no foreseeable reason. My other favorite scene has Otilia standing on a bus when the ticket taker comes around. She keeps moving forward ahead of the collector, and it's obvious that she doesn't have a ticket, but at the last minute a total stranger hands her an extra. That's something I think we miss a lot of the time in the US: that sense of everybody watching each other's backs. We consider ourselves less oppressed than a lot of other people, but we're also so singular, so individualistic. I think we're probably missing out a bit on that feeling of safety from others.
I feel like I haven't done this movie justice, and even though it made me feel like I'd been hit in the head with a board, I wish that I could do a better job. Erica and I couldn't even talk about it after we finished; it was pretty damn powerful. I really felt like I understood what a horror back-alley abortions are, and the terrible injustices that they visit upon women. I understood the physical risk, of course, and the amount of shame involved, but there are so many more levels of ill-treatment that that system enables. It is inherently abusive to women to deny them the right to a safe legal abortion. And so I think that this movie did its job.