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Patricia Brooks: A Singular Singer Remembered

In 1971, critics hailed soprano Patricia Brooks' recital debut as groundbreaking. A new CD release provides a rare document of a performer who demonstrated a rare mix of talents.

06:37

Other segments from the episode on January 25, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 25, 2008: Interview with William Maxwell; Review of Patricia Brooks' new live release of 1971 recording, "Patricia Brooks in recital;" Review of the film "4 Months…

Transcript

DATE January 25, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Writer and editor William Maxwell, who died at 91, from
a 1995 interview
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for The Philadelphia Daily
News filling in for Terry Gross.

William Maxwell was a much loved, although not widely known, writer. This
year, to honor the centenary of his birth and his contribution to American
writing, the Library of America will publish a two-volume edition collecting
his work. The first, out this month, collects his early novels and stories.

Maxwell was born in 1908 in the small town of Lincoln, Illinois, where he
lived until moving to Chicago at the age of 14. Much of his fiction is set in
the turn of the century in towns like Lincoln.

Maxwell wrote six novels and several collections of stories, a memoir,
literary essays and reviews. From 1936 to 1975 he was a fiction editor at The
New Yorker, where he worked with such writers as John Updike, John Cheever,
Vladimir Nabokov and Mary McCarthy. Terry Gross spoke with William Maxwell in
1995, when he published a collection of new and old stories called "All the
Days and Nights." She asked him about a story called "What He was Like." It's
about an aging man who keeps a diary in which he records his private thoughts
and feelings, thoughts that would astonish people who knew him. William
Maxwell read a short excerpt.

Mr. WILLIAM MAXWELL: (Reading) "To be able to do in your mind," he wrote,
"what it is probably not a good idea to do in actuality is a convenience not
always sufficiently appreciated." Though in his daily life he was as cheerful
as a cricket, the diaries were more and more given over to dark thoughts,
anger, resentment, indecencies, regrets, remorse, and now and then the simple
joy of being alive. "If I stopped recognizing that I want things it is not
appropriate for me to want," he wrote, "wouldn't this inevitably lead to my
not wanting anything at all? Which, as people get older, is a risk that must
be avoided at all costs."

TERRY GROSS, host:

William Maxwell, let me read what happens a little later on in the story. A
little later on, after this man who's keeping the diary dies, his daughter
decides to read his diary even though this man's wife has warned her that he
wouldn't want the diaries read. And she's very upset after reading what he
wrote. And the daughter says, "He wasn't the person I thought he was. He had
all sorts of secret desires, a lot of it was very dirty. And some of it is
more unkind than I would have believed possible. And just not like him.
Except that it was him. It makes me feel I can never trust anybody ever
again."

I think one of the things I enjoyed so much about this story is that I related
to both sides. I've been shocked to find something out about someone who I
thought I knew that made me realize I didn't know them at all. But I know I
also have certain thoughts that I know would shock people that I know if they
found out I felt that way. And I wonder if you, too, related to both aspects
of this story.

Mr. MAXWELL: What I feel it's about really is the exterior and the interior
life everybody has, and that--Wallace Shawn once wrote a play in which
everybody spoke their interior thoughts, but if I am not careful, I pass for a
very mild man. And if I let loose with something that isn't mild, all hell
breaks loose. People have an idea of who you are, and you're rather confined
within that idea. Meanwhile, in your inner life you're perfectly free to
think anything you want to.

GROSS: So do you think people who know you would be shocked if they knew what
went on in your mind?

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes, and I'd be shocked if I knew what went on in theirs.

GROSS: The territory for some writers is just that territory, those secret
parts that are really shocking.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes.

GROSS: Do you feel you've worked with those parts as a writer? Or do you
feel that even as a writer you've kept those parts mostly hidden?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think they tend to be less interesting than the external
life, because the external life is related to other people and full of
conflict and involvement, whereas the inner life is a kind of mirror of--is
ingrown and repetitious and pretty much the same for one person as another,
only people don't recognize or admit it.

GROSS: I want to read another passage from the story "What He Was Like."

(Reading) His wife's uncle in the bar of the Yale Club said, "I am at the age
of funerals." Now, 35 years later, it was his turn. In his address book, the
names of his three oldest friends had lines drawn through them. "Jack is
dead," he wrote in his diary. "I didn't think that would happen. I thought
he was immortal. Louise is dead, in her sleep. Richard has been dead for
over a year, and I still do not believe it. So impoverishing." He himself got
older. His wife got older. They advanced deeper into their 70s without any
sense of large changes, but only of one day's following another, and of the
days being full and pleasant and worth recording. So he went on doing it.
They all got put down in his diary, along with his feelings about old age, his
fear of dying, his declining sexual powers, his envy of the children that he
saw running down the street. To be able to run like that. He had to restrain
himself from saying to young men in their 30s and 40s, `you do appreciate,
don't you, what you have?' In his diary he wrote, "If I had my life to live
over again--but one doesn't. One goes forward instead dragging a cart piled
high with lost opportunities."

Do you feel that you've written a lot, or wanted to write a lot about aging as
you've gotten older?

Mr. MAXWELL: I'm surprised I don't write more. But I'm a storyteller,
essentially, not a philosopher. And an idea will pass through my mind about
aging, about being old, about the good things about it and the bad things
about it. And it's a kind of intimation, which I receive and let go of. And
I don't remember the next day what the interesting thought was. Only a very
few of them have ever stayed by me. The very first one of all was when I was
shaving, and, of course, looking at myself in the mirror as I shaved. And I
thought, `What am I doing tied to this old man?' And two or three days later,
I had a second one, which was, `But I don't want to leave the party.' Those
ideas occur to you, but they don't seem to be related to--I mean, they
could've occurred to anybody who shaved themself in front of a mirror and was
in his late 70s. I don't think they have to do with writing, particularly, or
that I needed to do anything more than just have the idea.

GROSS: Do you keep a journal yourself?

Mr. MAXWELL: No, never have.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. MAXWELL: It isn't true that I never have. I started when I was in
college and it petered out. It was so uninteresting it bored me to tears.

GROSS: Oh, I've had some of those.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. I think journal keeping is a talent, it's a specific
talent like being a playwright or being a novelist or being a short story
writer. You have a need to record your days, and you have a pleasure in
recording it, and people who don't have that instinct don't keep journals.

GROSS: A lot of the stories in your new collection come out of memories of
your childhood. How much do you feel that your memory of your past has been
your subject as a writer?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think about three-quarters of the time, actually. When I was
first beginning to write, I wrote largely out of the present and was alert for
any situation taking place around me that could make a story. But the
present, though very pleasant, didn't seem to go very deeply into anything,
and memories sit on the back of the stove like soup and they get richer and
richer for the things they attract to them and their wonderful kind of
accidental quality.

But I also have a kind of abnormal memory, really. My memories go back, as
far as I can make out, to when I was two years old, and I have quite vivid
memories of before I was four. And it isn't that I haven't forgotten things,
but that I have remembered more things than people usually do.

And in my old age, there's an additional vividness to them, detail. And the
detail is sometimes so astonishing that I feel everything is there, everything
that ever happened to me is there. It's a matter of unhooking it and bringing
it out to the light.

GROSS: You're saying that your past has become more vivid to you as you've
gotten older?

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes, much more vivid.

GROSS: Is there anything that would explain that?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think it's a common phenomenon, but also there's--see, I'm
86--there's a breakdown in the sense of divisions of time between past,
present and future. The future is problematical, and the present is rather
meditative because I'm not involved in an active job, and I read and wander
around the house and garden and do things that don't interfere with any kind
of meditative process.

So there's nothing to prevent the accidental memory from getting into your
mind. And I think memories are attached, something brings them up, but they
don't usually force their way up like air through water. But I have had a
sense that the past is no longer different from the present, that I can live
in the past as I live in the present. I think of some part of my life that I
enjoyed very much, and I think, well, enjoy it. It's still here. You're in
it, even though the people I haven't seen for 30 years.

DAVIES: William Maxwell speaking with Terry Gross in 1995. We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: Let's hear more of Terry's interview with writer William Maxwell.
This year the Library of America is publishing a two-volume collection of his
novels and short stories. The first comes out this month.

GROSS: You know, in the story that we were reading from before, "What He Was
Like," one of the characters describes himself as being in the age of
funerals, where he's always going to funerals.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes.

GROSS: Have you outlived a lot of your friends?

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. I have outlived three very close friends, and I think
about them quite often. I've also outlived people of the older generation who
were very kind and did wonderful things for me that I think of with love and
gratitude.

GROSS: Some people really say that people who they've loved who have passed
are still with them in a way that they never expected. Do you ever feel that
way?

Mr. MAXWELL: Spooks, you mean?

GROSS: Well, I don't mean like actual ghosts, but just feeling somebody's
presence.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. People often speak of it, really, and they speak of it as
if they don't entirely rule out the possibility of ghosts. I think there's
another way that people are kept, and that is someone who's especially dear to
you, so dear that you can't face the idea of never seeing them again, you take
on certain of their qualities.

My mother was a very outgoing, hospitable and quite happy woman, and I'm
rather introverted and tend to be shy with strangers, and like to be alone,
like to read. And when she died, I was only a little boy, and I couldn't
really--I wasn't ready to give her up, and I haven't given her up. I think
about her quite often. As I'm older, I remember her face more vividly, but I
also am aware that I have a kind of sociable life. I don't say it isn't me,
but it's the part of me that developed because I took part of her in-demand
nature rather than let her die.

GROSS: It was a long time ago that she died.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes, it was...

GROSS: It was 1918 or '19?

Mr. MAXWELL: ...an immense time ago.

GROSS: Yeah. You've written about her a lot.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes.

GROSS: So you think you became more sociable?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think so, happy with people, because she was always happy
with people.

GROSS: Losing her when you were, I think it was 10 years old, to the flu
epidemic, it must have made you think that at any moment someone who you love
could just suddenly disappear because people were dying all around her in that
epidemic. I mean, how many--so many Americans died. Were you always, like,
bracing for that?

Mr. MAXWELL: After that?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAXWELL: No. My father was of very strong character and a physically
strong man. And once when I was a little boy, I was in a boat on the Illinois
River with my father and mother. And he was fishing, and we were far out in
the middle of the river and a sudden thunderstorm came up, and there were
whitecaps on the waves. And it was quite a way back to the dock, and my
father said to get down in the bottom of the boat. And my mother was a heavy
woman, so he had to pull quite a lot to get her in a hurry through the water.
However, we stepped out of the boat just as the cloudburst came down. I had,
as long as he lived--and I think I have it still--the feeling of being safe
because of him, safe because he was an honest man, safe because he was a
decent man and safe because he was physically strong.

So what effect my mother's death had on me was really that things happen that
you don't want to happen, that you can't bear to have happen, and that you
must somehow learn that there is no way to get around that fact. So I learned
to live with the things that can't be undone.

GROSS: Well, you know, speaking of things that can't be undone, that leads me
to another story in your new collection, and it's a story based on a memory,
based on something that happened. The story's called "The Holy Terror."

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes.

GROSS: And you wrote it in 1985 after the death of your older brother. I'm
sorry, you wrote it in 1986 after his death in 1985. I think I have that
right.

Mr. MAXWELL: Close enough.

GROSS: Yeah, OK. And what happened was, when you were very, very young, your
brother was trying to--when you were very, very young, your aunt was leaving
in a horse and buggy, and your brother, who was a boy, wanted to go with her.

Mr. MAXWELL: About five.

GROSS: And when he tried to climb up onto the buggy, and what happened?

Mr. MAXWELL: Well, she didn't know he was there. He climbed up the wheel,
and she was talking to my mother, and she had finished her sentence and
cracked the whip to make the horse move forward, and the wheels turned. And
my brother slipped and his leg got caught in the wheel, and his leg was
broken. And what I was told, presumably by my father but somehow or other I
acquired the information that it was broken in so many pieces that they had to
cut it off.

And it wasn't until I was in my 20s that an uncle, who was a doctor, told me
that in fact it was a simple fracture that not once in 100 times they would've
required an amputation, but the family doctor was a drug addict, because he
used to dispense medicine, so they had access to drugs. And he didn't set the
leg properly, and gangrene had set in, and that's why they had to cut it off.
My brother didn't know this, I'm quite sure, and I don't think his family knew
it while he was alive.

GROSS: Wow. He never knew that?

Mr. MAXWELL: No.

GROSS: It would've been really hard for him to live with that.

Mr. MAXWELL: It would've been unbearable, and I managed to keep this secret
while we were both alive.

GROSS: Was it hard for you to keep it a secret?

Mr. MAXWELL: No. I just had a fear that he might find out, but I knew he
wouldn't find out through me.

GROSS: This is the kind of story I always find really frightening, in the
sense that so many people have the kind of lives in which, in one moment, they
made one foolish move that cost them something very dear that they could never
get back.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes.

GROSS: Like a leg.

Mr. MAXWELL: And the leg, the price seems to be so disproportionate to the
offense.

GROSS: Because a story like that can paralyze you, can make you feel like,
`well, I better not make any move in case I make the wrong move.'

Mr. MAXWELL: Yeah, but we're animals. We have to move.

GROSS: What you write in your story is that watching what happened to your
brother changed you. You say, "I became a more tractable, more even-tempered,
milder person than it was in my true nature to be."

Mr. MAXWELL: I think this is true, but it is not my perception. It was
something that was said to me when I was in analysis by the psychoanalyst. He
thought that there was a fierce character inside my rather gentle exterior,
and that the reason that exterior was so gentle was because the fierce
character saw what happens. My brother didn't just climb on that wagon; he
smoked cigars when he was two or three and he was hell on wells.

GROSS: Right. Really willful, as--I mean...

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. My father had to lock up his cigar case.

GROSS: Oh, gosh.

Mr. MAXWELL: And he was three years old. And he turned the hose on the
women of the family. He was full of beans. But then look what happened to
him. So I think it might have--I can't swear to this, but who can swear to
anything psychological?--it might have made me more quiet and gentle and
bookish. But perhaps those were just my genes. I don't know. Who knows?

DAVIES: The late writer William Maxwell speaking with Terry Gross in 1995.
This year the Library of America is publishing a two-volume collection of
work. We'll hear more of William Maxwell in the second half of the show. I'm
Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 1995 interview with the late writer William
Maxwell. For 40 years, he was fiction editor at The New Yorker.

GROSS: Did you feel like a New Yorker working at The New Yorker? You were
from a small town in Illinois.

Mr. MAXWELL: When I first went to work, I felt very different from them. At
that particular moment, three plays of Noel Coward had just opened with
Richard Lawrence, and there was a great deal of conversation about going to
the opening nights. And I didn't go to the opening nights, I'd never seen a
Noel Coward play. I felt from the hinterlands. And in a sense I remained
from the hinterlands, but I stopped worrying about it and felt, that's who I
am; that's where I belong. And that what the hinterlands have to offer is
something as good as anywhere else.

But I don't think I ever became in any sense--I never felt sophisticated, and
they were, really. But strangely, only in certain areas. In other areas they
weren't. For example, E.B. White had only--I think he only read--what?--he
did read "Anna Karenina," but it took him three years, and he was not a reader
at all. The whole vast areas in addition to American classics were outside
his experience. Which isn't sophistication, is it?

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MAXWELL: That is, a very sophisticated writer.

GROSS: I think of how much the world has changed since you were a boy--you
know, from horse and buggies to, you know, moonwalks and portable computers
and all of that. Do you feel like you still make an effort to keep up with
all the big changes, technological and otherwise, or is it not important to
you now?

Mr. MAXWELL: I don't say I make an effort not to keep up, but I certainly
don't make any effort to keep up. For example, I don't--I use a typewriter,
not a computer.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAXWELL: Joseph Mitchell, my colleague at The New Yorker, is fond of a
Quaker phrase which is very convenient when there's something--some current
manifestation. He says, `It doesn't speak to my condition.' And if you're 86,
of course lots of contemporary things don't speak to your condition. Your
condition is placed 30, 40, 50, 60 years earlier.

I like the world I came into as a child. My father liked new things. He
thought all the new inventions were marvelous. And in general, I've tended to
hate them. I would so gladly put an end to all flying machines, all
automobiles, all mechanical means of locomotion, except the horse and buggy.
It was a beautiful world. I loved the sound of the horses--clop,
cloppety-clop, clop--going past the house. And it was unhurried. It left
time for brooding and thought. It left time for being nice to other people.
It left time for making presents, instead of buying them. It left time for
telling stories.

GROSS: I don't know if this is an answerable question or not, but what has
given you the most pleasure about getting older, and what has been the most
painful or most sad for you about it?

Mr. MAXWELL: Nothing has been sad, strangely, because the most serious
losses haven't occurred. My wife is 13 years younger than I am, and she's
still beautiful. She takes wonderful care of me. And so in the center of the
operation, things are still secure.

I don't mind--when I wrote that story about the men who kept the diary, I did
in fact look out of the window and see children running down the street and
think how wonderful it would be to run like that. But I've accepted the fact
that I'm not going to run like that. And the other day, I went to the theater
with a friend, and there were no taxis. This was a matinee, and there were no
taxis. And we walked, walked, and walked, walked. And finally, as we got
close to Grand Central, I saw a stopped taxi with a light on and realized
somebody was about to get out of it. And I ran, and I was so happy I could
run. I don't say I run very fast, but I covered the ground and I got there
before somebody else did.

I love--well, I love so many things about being old. For one thing, I'm quite
charitable about most people and most things, and equally charitable toward my
own shortcomings. And it makes for a pleasant state of mind. I love reading,
and you can still read--my eyes are still fine. And I love gardening, and my
knees are able to kneel on so that the wonderful opening out of memory, the
fact that you can look back over such a long period, it's like having a
marvelous novel.

And my health is on the whole fine, so I think old age is a minefield, but
I've only stepped on one or two mines during that period.

GROSS: So interesting to hear you talk about this. I feel like we get such
mixed messages about aging. On the one hand, we all want to live a long time.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. It is curious, isn't it?

GROSS: And on the other hand, older people are always saying, `Whatever you
do, don't get old.'

Mr. MAXWELL: No, I don't feel that way. I wouldn't have missed it for
anything.

GROSS: Well, William Maxwell, it's been a delight to talk with you. I thank
you very much for talking with us.

Mr. MAXWELL: Thank you.

DAVIES: Writer William Maxwell speaking with Terry Gross in 1995. The
Library of America has just published the first of a two-volume collection of
his novels and stories.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Lloyd Schwartz reviews Patricia Brooks' "In Recital"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Soprano Patricia Brooks was never as well known as Beverly Sills, her
contemporary and friend at the New York City Opera in the 1960s. But she was
highly prized among opera lovers, not only for her voice but as one of the
opera's most gifted actresses. She didn't make many recordings so classical
music critic Lloyd Schwartz says he's especially pleased at the new release of
a live recital from 1971.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PATRICIA BROOKS: (Singing in foreign language)

(End of soundbite)

Mr. LLOYD SCHWARTZ: Some performances are so indelible that even after many
years you can't forget them. I can still picture in my mind the way Patricia
Brooks handled a champagne glass in director Frank Corsaro's famous 1969
production of Verdi's "La Traviata" at the New York City Opera.

Brooks had an unusual background for an opera singer. She was both a dancer
with Martha Graham's company and an actress. She studied with the great Uta
Hagen and appeared off Broadway in Jose Quintero's legendary Circle in the
Square production of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh."

Violetta, the heroine of "La Traviata", is a tubercular courtesan. Brooks
played her as world-weary and cynical, threatened by the love of her naive
suitor Alfredo. At the end of the first act she resists her sentimental
impulse to fall in love and tries to talk or sing herself back into her
ruthless pursuit of sheer pleasure. Brooks sipped her champagne as if she
were sipping at the well of love itself. `Maybe,' she sings, `Alfredo is the
one, but no, honest feeling is impossible, absurd. I must remain free,'
Violetta sings. And as if she had to shake off this temptation in the most
violent way, Brooks smashed the champagne glass on the floor. Few sopranos
ever sing this passage, ever acted with such desperation or with greater
theatrical skills.

But Brooks never recorded this role. Most of her performances remain only in
the memory of those who saw them. Now, VAI has released a CD of her 1971 New
York recital debut, and we can hear again her extraordinary sweetness and
sensitivity. As, for example, in this atmospheric Muller song in which
breathing in the scent of a lime tree twig becomes an act of love.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BROOKS: (Singing in foreign language)

(End of soundbite)

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Brooks could also rise to heights of tragic grandeur, as in
this aria from Meyerbeer rarely performed "Robert Le Diable."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BROOKS: (Singing in foreign language)

(Soundbite of applause)

(End of soundbite)

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Patricia Brooks' opera career was cut short in 1977 by the
onset of multiple sclerosis, which affected her breathing. She died in 1993
at the age of 59.

I'm not aware of any film with Patricia Brooks. I wish I could see again how
gracefully and with how much character she moved. But this lovely new disc,
with its uncliched selection of songs and arias in German, Italian and French,
stylishly accompanied by pianist Harriet Wingreen and oboist Burt Lucarelli,
is a powerful reminder of what a cherishable artist she was.

DAVIES: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor at the Boston Phoenix and
teaches English at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He reviewed
Patricia Brooks' "In Recital" on the VAI label.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BROOKS: (Singing in foreign language)

(Soundbite of laughter)

(End of soundbite)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Edelstein on the Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks
and 2 Days"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

The title of the Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" refers to the
point in her pregnancy when a young woman in communist Bucharest attempts to
procure an abortion. The film, which opens today in New York and Los Angeles,
won the top prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival and was named the best
foreign language film of the year by the National Society of Film Critics.
Our film critic, David Edelstein, has this review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is set in Romania in
1987, two years before the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's violent fall and is
part of director Cristian Mungiu's series "Tales from the Golden Age." The
golden age was Ceausescu's name for his quarter century reign, and 10 minutes
of this movie is enough to tarnish the label for all time.

The film unfolds over one long day, which begins with a university student,
Otilia, waking up in her dorm, brushing her teeth, bargaining for a pack of
black market cigarettes and setting off to orchestrate an illegal abortion for
her roommate.

That roommate, Gabita, is a pretty and child like creature who has left many
of the logistics to her friend. So in the course of the movie Otilia must
have protracted and humiliating negotiations with sadistically indifferent
hotel clerks, a predatory male abortionist and even her well-off boyfriend,
who insists on her presence that evening at his mother's birthday dinner.
Through it all Otilia's powerlessness is more and more palpable. And as she
struggles to keep her focus, the camera stays fastened on her, long, grueling
takes in which her dogged persistence becomes increasingly heroic.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" centers on the subjugation of women, but the
plight of Otilia and Gabita is also a window on a society in which everyone is
stunted, in which fear has metastasized into malignant self-interest.
Everyone but Otilia is out for him- or herself. Everyone has moral tunnel
vision. The danger in this sort of sociological filmmaking is that the
characters will seem like specimens in a jar or fish in an aquarium, which is
actually the first image of the film. But it's fascinating to study the ways
in which these particular sea creatures have adapted to this repressive
regime. Even the monstrously exploitive abortionist Bebe, played by Vlad
Ivanov, is a strangely compelling figure. He has a shtick, and it hinges on
the conviction that his clients regard him as a moron and will take advantage
of him. We don't forgive him for his actions, but we understand how he
evolved in Ceausescu's golden age. We see how he justifies those actions to
himself.

Last year's Romanian critics' darling "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," depicted
a similarly "dead souled" Romania seen through the prism of a poor,
disagreeable old man's last hours as he shuttled from one uncaring medical
facility to the next. It was powerful, but it was basically a single morbid
hospital joke stretched to three hours.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" portrays a more complex ecosystem. Mungiu
moves between huge, empty, decrepit buildings--once presumably glorious--and
characterless modern apartment towers. It's almost impossible to reconcile
the country's past with its present. There's no music, only the thunk of
radiators, the echo of shoes on uncarpeted floors and, unforgettably, the
sound of a small object as it bumps down a garbage chute.

As Otilia, Anamaria Marinca is remarkable. There isn't a trace of
tremulousness. Somehow, the more frozen her face, the more of her soul is
bared. You want her not just to survive, but to survive with her humanity
intact. You pray for her. You pray for everyone to transcend the collective
venality or, failing that, to emerge from this golden age with the
determination to capture it in works of art, as in this great, unsparing film.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

(Credits)

DAVIES: We'll close with music performed and written by composer and arranger
Benny Goldson. He was born 79 years ago today. This is "I Remember
Clifford," which he wrote in tribute to the jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of "I Remember Clifford")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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