CANNES, France—A hard-hitting Romanian film set towards the end of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's rule is making the early running at Cannes Film Festival, with critics calling it a favourite only three days into the competition.
"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", directed by Cristian Mungiu, is set in a single day and tells the story of Gabita illegally aborting an unwanted baby and the trials of her friend and accomplice Otilia.
It portrays not only characters' personal misery but also the drab grimness of life in the former Communist country.
One of 22 films in the main competition, "4 Months" will already take some beating in the eyes of the critics, although their opinions rarely match those of the jury when it comes to handing out the coveted "Palme d'Or" on May 27.
"Pitch perfect and brilliantly acted, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is a stunning achievement," Jay Weissberg of Hollywood trade magazine Variety wrote on Friday.
He went on to praise the lead performances, Mungiu's direction and the cinematography.
"Colours are all muted cement tones, capturing the crushing ugliness of life in the Eastern bloc," he added.
Another trade publication Screen International, awarding "4 Months" a maximum four stars, said the film had a "better-than-average shot at a reward from this year's jury".
In its unofficial poll of movie critics in Cannes, "4 Months" was given an average of over three stars, an unusually high mark that puts it ahead of festival opener "My Blueberry Nights" and serial killer drama "Zodiac".
The reception for Mungiu's picture follows similar critical praise in Cannes two years ago for "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", by fellow Romanian Cristi Puiu, and comparisons between the two are already being made.
The buzz surrounding this year's Romanian competition entry makes up for the muted response to Chinese director Wong Kar Wai's English-language debut "My Blueberry Nights", which opened the 60th Cannes festival on Wednesday.
Starring singer Norah Jones alonside Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman, the road movie about love lost and found generally disappointed journalists, who had high expectations from the maker of the acclaimed "In The Mood For Love".
Also in competition is David Fincher's "Zodiac", which was well received in the French Riviera resort but has already been released in the United States where it has done poorly at the box office.
And Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, who made his name with "The Return", won barely a ripple of applause at the press screening of his second feature "The Banishment", about an emotionally estranged couple whose lives fall apart when they leave the city for the countryside.