Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Moartea domnului Lăzărescu; drama, Romania, 2005; D: Cristi Puiu, S: Ioan Fiscuteanu, Luminița Gheorghiu, Doru Ana, Sterian Șerban

One Saturday evening, Dante Lazarescu (62) calls the ambulance because he is suffering both from a headache and stomach pain. While he waits for the ambulance, he calls his neighbors to ask if they have any painkillers. The ambulance finally arrives and the nurse, Mioara, directs Lazarescu to a nearby hospital, yet it is too crowded there due to a recent bus crash, so he is sent to another hospital. In the other hospital, the doctor suspects Lazaerscu has stomach cancer, but he sends him to a third hospital for a CT scan. After the scan, Lazarescu and Mioara have to go to a fourth hospital for a surgery of a hematoma, even though he has dysarthria and thus cannot clearly speak anymore.

One of the most significant movies from the Romanian New Wave, this dark and depressive drama explores the uncomfortable situation of helplessness and frustration of people who have to rely on the sad state of the public health care system in Eastern Europe where there are not enough doctors, nor funds, while the patients are treated as things, not as humans. Similarly like "Umberto D.", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" also shows old age as an ever sinking state with no way of saving, yet the director Cristi Puiu did not conjure up that much ingenuity or sense for a richer spectrum of a viewing experience than just the one presented at face value: the film is too simplistic and banal in its structure, with no clear strategy of where it is going, exacerbated further by a sudden open ending that leaves nothing resolved. At 153 minutes, it is also unnecessary overstretched: the first 50 minutes could have been easily cut altogether, since they waste too much time on pointless scenes of the two neighbors waiting at Lazarescu's home, waiting for the ambulance to show up, when in fact the entire story could have started right when the ambulance arrives. When 10 sentences are used in something that could have been said in only one, then that is problematic. A few cynical lines aside ("You called an ambulance on Saturday. Don't expect them to come here soon!"), Puiu maintains a rather serious tone, yet lacks highlights. The title protagonist traverses four hospitals, yet only the third one offered some truly interesting moments in the sequence where a doctor is inspecting Lazarescu and asks him to name the objects he is holding: when he points at the watch, Lazarescu says "time", and when he points at a pen, he says "writer". As an indictment of the entire distorted system, where the doctors are either impolite or uninterested for their patients, the movie works, yet it can only go so far before it exhausts the viewers concentration due to its 'one-note concept', because it also plays out as a more boring, literal version of "Dr. House", just without its spark and energy.


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