At the World Cinema Showcase, Romania delivers a formidable centrepiece. By TIM WONG.

PREGNANCY is no joke in Cristian Mungiu’s paralysing, instantly absorbing film, a Cannes winner with a view to a kill. Unlikely to be received in the red states, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days rarely flinches or skips a beat in mapping its trajectory of two Romanian women – one pregnant, the other an accomplice – in pursuit of an illegal abortion under Ceausescu rule. As the film hits the ground running, it tails Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), in close proximity, as she carries out a series of measures specified by underground abortionist Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), a passive-aggressive asshole who nonetheless understands the severity of the deed. Rendezvousing in a deadpan hotel, Bebe terrorises Otilia’s roommate with the sickly details of extracting a four month old foetus, how to dispose of it, and the ever-present danger of being caught. Propelled through a vacuum of institutional corridors and poorly lit walkways, Mungiu trades in the bellyaching anxiety and momentum of another Romanian triumph, The Death of Mr Lazaresu (also shot by Oleg Mutu), along with routing the Dardenne Brothers’ clenching formalism (namely, their Palm d’Or recipient, The Child). The shots though are held much longer and impose greater tension without the need for more artificial thriller conventions, while the cinemascope frame imprisons and isolates its characters through sterile space. Filmed with austerity and urgency, it’s as riveting as it is necessary; the irony of its final scene does not go unspoken.