Thursday, February 21, 2008


4... 3... 2...

A film group I belong to went to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days last Sunday. To say that it’s a cheerless film would be understating things significantly; our next film will be The Counterfeiters, taking place in a Nazi concentration camp, and I’m guessing it’ll be less grim than this one was.

The setup is simple: it’s 1987 in Romania, Gabita is pregnant, and she arranges an abortion with the help of her college roommate, Otilia. An illegal abortion, as they all were in Ceauşescu’s Romania.

The story is not so simple, though. It’s less a story of Gabita and the abortion than it is a story of Otilia, her relationship with her friend, the affect this has on her romantic relationship, and how she copes with the whole situation. It’s a moving story, and it’s not easy to watch.

The film won the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, and it’s been nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign language film.

We had an interesting discussion after the movie, which hit on a topic that’s come up in these pages before. Otilia does a great deal for her friend, taking care of most of the setup and risking arrest and prison along with her. The women arrange with a man, Bebe, for the abortion, and they get a hotel room. Otilia brings the man to the room, where Gabita is waiting. They discuss the procedure, and because of the lateness — the pregnancy is about halfway to term — it turns out that Bebe wants more money than they have.

He says he’ll leave and come back when they have more money, but they’ve already paid for the room, Gabita doesn’t want to wait yet longer, and they’re scared — partly because Gabita wants to get it over with and partly because they stand to go to prison for what they’re doing.

And Bebe makes it clear that he’ll do it for the money they have if they both have sex with him. “Which one of you will go first?”, he says.

When we talked about the movie afterward, and I said that the roommate did a lot for her friend, I added that Otilia “even got raped for her.”

A man in the group said that she didn’t get raped; it wasn’t rape because she consented.

No, I said, that was rape. There wasn’t consent to it at all. They were clearly coerced, backed into a corner with no real option, and just because a woman isn’t kicking and screaming doesn’t mean she consented.

He insisted that it wasn’t rape. The women at the table universally agreed that it was, and one said that any woman would call it rape.

The guy persisted in saying that it wasn’t, adding that, if anything, it was prostitution, giving Bebe sex in exchange for a service.

At which point I said, “OK, you are now officially a pig.”

And we see another example of one of the huge problems we have with stopping rape: too, too often, men will make excuses for why “it’s not rape.” If she wasn’t “asking for it” or “lying”, then she “consented”.

So, here’s the request for my readers: If you see this film, make note of that scene, from where they start discussing how far along the pregnancy is. And post a comment back here, telling me whether you consider that the women were raped or not.

I promise I won’t call you a pig, however you respond (but, um, you really do have to see the movie to qualify for that).


lidija said...

A film group... what a neat thing. And you, Barry, are officially, a non-pig :)

Barry Leiba said...

Awwwww... thanks!

The film group:

Julietta said...

Barry, you are more than a non-pig, you are a HERO!! Thanks for rooting for our team! I was raped as a college student, and was advised by police and friends and family not to take the guy to court, because, after all, I was in HIS apartment (he was my boyfriend's roommate, and my boyfriend had gone out), after 9PM, wearing "provocative clothes" (JEANS? A WORKSHIRT?), and he was a man (they said) and I was a girl (they said) who was "asking for it" (they said) and should have known better (they said). I was forced to imagine myself in front of judge and jury, being humiliated and ridiculed for the "crime" of being female, and having to defend my innocence, not prove his guilt.

The guy in your film group is a big fat pig. I don't even have to see the film to know that.

Barry Leiba said...

I can't accept "hero"... though thanks so much for the offer!

The real heroes are the rape victims who get past the advice and the hurt and the shame and the assumptions and all that... and go to court with it. I can't imagine how hard it must be to do that, and I certainly understand why many don't, and why loved ones advise against it.

lidija said...

OK, I was going to say that non-pig was much of an understatement, and Julietta beat me to it. Really it means a world to have, in these matters of binary identity, "the other side" argue your cause. OK, this was still clumsy. But you rock.

Julietta said...

The legal system is different now than when I was 18, in the 70's. Then, judges were biased, awful to women, and shared the viewpoint of your film "buddy." No way did we get fair trials. If it happened to me now, or to any woman I know, we'd prosecute the s--t out of the perp! Obviously I am not ashamed now, nor do I feel it was in any way my fault. But then, no way was I going to get on a witness stand and have MY character questioned. (Remember, in those days premarital sex was considered shameful.) Even now, I wonder how much difference it makes to bring charges (imagine the women in the film doing so, and having to explain what they were doing there.....futile). Depends on the time, and the culture, and political climate.

So, having a man helping to change other men's perspectives means a lot. I'm with Lidija: You rock.

Anonymous said...

I agree, that's pretty clearly rape. Amazing anyone would argue otherwise. Perhaps it would be difficult to determine with the physical evidence, but knowing the scenario we don't have to guess.

What an odd argument, too: prostitution means it wasn't rape.

I guess rape at knifepoint isn't rape either, because it's that or your life. So that's a business transaction, right?

People, I suppose, really want to believe that "business" is something special and that a "transaction" lends some kind of magical effect. You see people victimized in business as well, in situations that leave one party violate, even without sex being involved.

No, putting a thin veneer of exchange over a blatant use of force advantage does not absolve someone. On the contrary, this is this particular rapist's M.O. and it is a story he tells himself (and wants you to buy into) to enable the rape taking place, to facilitate it, to enhance the use of it for his own sick needs. And being unable to see this is to be complicit.

Frisky070802 said...

I haven't seen the movie but was intrigued by the blog post and comments.

At the risk of being called a pig, I'm afraid I have to come down on the side of the person who didn't call it rape. Whether it was prostitution or coercion is a subtle distinction --- if you think of it as "I'll give you a monetary equivalent if you'll sleep with me" then it indeed sounds like the former.

One dictionary definition (M-W) is:

unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent

Was this either forced or via threat of injury? Yes, there was a form of coercion, but to equate this with what (for instance) Julietta went through just doesn't seem fair.