By the end of the Romanian drama Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, friendship, family, and romantic love have all been quietly eviscerated. What's left is an ambiguous tribute to strength of character, a critical but not unsympathetic depiction of the lengths to which one young woman goes to help a friend.

An inquisitive camera follows Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) through the dorms, hotels, and backstreets of Communist Romania in the 1980s, as she conspires to arrange an illegal abortion for her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu). Bags must be packed, a hotel room procured, and someone will have to watch Gabita to make sure she doesn't develop a fever or start bleeding. While her clueless boyfriend wonders at her preoccupation, Otilia tends to all of these details; Gabita, meanwhile, is listless and unhelpful, allowing things to happen to her, trusting that Otilia will take care of the loose ends she has not. And Otilia does, grimly trying to do right by those she cares about, whether they deserve it or not.

Understated and quiet—but no less harrowing for its restraint—4 Months is not an easy movie to watch. Any woman who's ever had a cervical exam will feel her entire midsection clench sympathetically during the abortion scene, when the "doctor" tells the prone woman not to tense up. (Sure, just relax while I shove this cold metal thing inside of you and wiggle it around.) The extent to which the abortionist takes advantage of these two young women inspires worlds of anger, reinforced by a camera that hovers behind Otilia like a worried friend, concerned but unwilling to pry. Director Cristian Mungiu coaxes the audience into immediately identifying with the talented Anamaria Marinca; it's impossible not to get swept up in this disturbing, masterfully told story.