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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

September 12th, 2007 by Maxim · No Comments · 4,064 Views


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I have not seen a descent movie come out of Romania in decades. The best movies I’ve seen was 1976 “Toate pînzele sus”, 1988 “Morometii” (Moromete Family”) and a very nice 1981 fairytale “Maria, Mirabella”, with most of the credit for latter belonging to USSR. I had crossed over the Romanian cinematography long time ago. But in the recent years it seems to emerge as a new bleep on the radar.

“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” has won 5 awards at 2005 Transylvania International Film Festival (is that a surprise?), a Special Mention at Cannes in 2005 for director Cristi Puiu, a nomination for best foreign film in 2006, a nomination for 2007 best foreign film from Online Film Critics Society (oh, I gotta be careful now not to turn all online critics against me!) – 25 wins and nominations in total for the film, director and actors! There’s also a new 2007 Romanian movie that’s a favorite at this year’s festivals) – “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” directed by Cristian Mungiu won Golden Palm in Cannes for a story of an abortion during “golden years” of Communism set in Bucharest.

It’s a movie about a 60-something years old man (Ion Fiscuteanu), war veteran, who also smokes and drinks regularly, feels stomach ache and headache one evening and calls the ambulance. As he waits for ambulance, his condition gets worse. Then ambulance arrives and they take him to a hospital, but unfortunately there is a big bus accident in Bucharest and huge number of victims overwhelms emergency rooms. As nurse takes him from one hospital to another his condition deteriorates further.

For two hours I watched life leave the body of an lonely old man. A synopsis like that explains why this movie was not a big box-office hit in US and Canada. Definitely not a movie for kids either. I only watched it to find out what all the fuss is about. Did all these movie critics go mad or repeat after each other how great this movie was while “the king was naked” all along?

Well, here’s a straight story. A: This is not a medical drama ala “E.R” – but a drama (with elements of dark comedy) nevertheless, which has a lot in common with Hitchkock’s “Wrong Man”. B: The acting is superb. C: even though you basically follow a dying man for two hours, the movie is strangely gripping. I genuinely cared for all characters (there are no negative characters here). When the movie begins, we meet Mr. Lazarescu in his apartment and in a relatively short time we are given some background information about him: he had several operations before, his daughter is married to a Canadian and he lives in a Bucharest apartment all alone with his three cats. He’s friendly with neighbors. Then as he is transported from hospital to hospital we meet the doctors and nurses. And this is really where this movie works best: showing doctors as just people. Some despise nurses for being under-qualified, some despise patients and treat them as commodity (”..we’ve got our doze of drunkards and insured for today…”), but nobody treats our hero properly. Some because they are overwhelmed with the bus accident victims, some because they don’t want to deal with another drunkard with a headache, some don’t want to take responsibility for the risk of operation, some are just too tired. This movie shows how, because of human nature, we fail each other.

I don’t usually like shaky camera shots, but in this case it worked very well: unlike most Andrei Tarkovski movies that can show a tea cup or a lake for 10 minutes without “blinking” to set the mood, some camera shake helps put the viewer on the scene and make long shots of an old man sitting at the table on his tiny kitchen seem like watching life itself.

It’s in Romanian language. English subtitles are available on DVD. Subtitles did not bother me. I knocked off a star for length of the movie, and because I would not watch it second time. Otherwise, great film.

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Rated 4/5 on Sep 12 2007
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Tags: DVD · Dark comedy · Drama · Foreign · Movies · Romania

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