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Fonda and Mungiu

Abortion on the big screen

Cannes festival prize goes to Romanian director

Issue: "Goodbye again," June 9, 2007

The Cannes Film Festival's top prize, The Palme d'Or, went this year to Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days, a Romanian film about illegal abortion under Ceausescu's communist dictatorship. The title refers to the age of a baby in the womb when the film's protagonist helps her friend terminate its life.

After beating out 21 other entries, including some by well-known Hollywood powerhouses like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, the film's director, Cristian Mungiu, expressed surprise and delight. Accepting the award from actress Jane Fonda, he exclaimed, "It looks a little bit to me like a fairytale." Earlier in the week he defended the movie's content at a press conference, arguing that it is not so much about abortion as it is about how Ceausescu's regime controlled people's lives down to the most intimate details.

Mungiu went on to say his victory signals good news for small filmmakers as it proves "you don't necessarily need a big budget and a lot of stars."

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Some might say this has been proven many times over at Cannes where big-name winners are the exception rather than the rule, and stories of sadness typically trump lighter fare.

As in previous years, themes of loss, death, and aging dominated the 2007 event. Reporters who endured Cannes' entire 12-day run described the lineup as "bleak," "dark," and "depressing." France's largest news organization, Agence France-Presse, even called the festival "death-obsessed."

With the exception of Michael Moore's 2004 anti-Bush documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, in the last decade every film honored with the Palme d'Or has focused on tragedy. Last year's winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, told the story of one brother who must execute another during the Irish Civil War; 2005's top prize went to L'Enfant, a Belgian film about a homeless man who sells his baby on the black market; and in 2003, Elephant, a sparse American-made movie that explored the massacre at Columbine High School, received the prestigious award.

However, Mungiu was accurate on one point when he commented, "This story in which we believe so much, is going to reach lots of people now."

Since its win on May 27, Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days has sold to distribution companies in Britain, Australia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, and South Korea, as well as to IFC in the United States. Previous Palme d'Or winners like The Pianist, Dancer in the Dark, and Pulp Fiction went on to receive wide acclaim and impressive box-office numbers from audiences around the world.

The victory also bodes well for Mungiu's career. Tarantino (Kill Bill; Grind House), the Coen Brothers (O Brother, Where Art Thou; Fargo), and Steven Soderbergh (Traffic; Erin Brockovich) were virtual unknowns before winning at Cannes.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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