DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, THE (Moartea domnului Lazarescu) (director/writer: Cristi Puiu; screenwriter: Razvan Radulescu; cinematographers: Andrei Butica/Oleg Mutu; editor: Dana Bunescu; music: Andreea Paduraru; cast: Ion Fiscuteanu (Mr. Lazarescu), Luminita Gheorghiu (Mioara), Gabriel Spahieu (Leonard), Doru Ana (Sandu Sterian), Dana Dogaru (Miki Sterian), Florin Zamfirescu (Dr. Ardelean), Adrian Titieni (Dr. Dragos Popescu), Mihai Bratila (Dr. Breslasu), Mimi Branescu (Dr. Mirica); Runtime: 153; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Alexandru Munteanu; Tartan Video; 2005-Romania-in Romanian with English subtitles)

 
"One of the the most remarkable medical dramas ever attempted."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a provocative black comedy done incisively in a surgically detailed realistic way as it indicts the healthcare system in Romania. It reminds one of a Béla Tarr social realism drama or a Frederick Wiseman cinema vérité documentary. Romanian ex-painter, director-writer Cristi Puiu, in his second feature, and writer Razvan Radulescu, have created a dreary but brilliant film about the nightmarish last stay in a hospital of an elderly man. It's a universal hospital story (the American TV series ER was cited by the director as an influence) that shows how ugly things can get in a hospital and makes one bristle with anger at how callously the hospitals are run--its gallows humor is what keeps the fires burning and makes this one of the most remarkable medical dramas ever attempted, a film that's essential viewing despite its nasty subject matter. 

When the 62-year-old Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu), a retired engineer pensioner, a heavy drinker though he had an operation for an ulcer 14 years ago, and a widower of eight years living alone in a cramped foul-smelling dumpy Bucharest apartment with three cats, complains of a severe headache and stomach pains and calls an ambulance--on of all days Saturday--when the chances are an ambulance wouldn't come. Until the ambulance arrives Lazarescu asks his neighbors, Sandu and Miki Sterian (Doru Ana and Dana Dogaru), for stronger pain killers than his aspirins and they reluctantly comfort him as he vomits up blood. Miki criticizes Lazarescu for his poor housekeeping, hitting the bottle and that his married daughter emigrated to Toronto. The ambulance arrives after a long delay at 10 pm--some 45 minutes into the film--and he's treated by the paramedic Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) and taken to a hospital that has specialists on duty as she determines he's seriously ill, mistakenly thinking its cancer. The neighbors refuse to accompany him, but the paramedic calls his older sister who lives far away and promises to visit tomorrow. 

The rest of the movie has the poor mistreated soul transported to a number of hospitals for various reasons, as he's berated by the gruff doctors for bringing on his illness by drink, browbeaten by one arrogant doctor after another, victimized by the uncaring bureaucrats caught in endless red tape, and made to look like a fool as the doctors act self-righteous and think of themselves as gods. Finally he's diagnosed with a blood clot and in need of an emergency operation but the hospital has a gruesome bus accident emergency and can't treat him. The patient paramedic, his only advocate, and her ambulance driver Leonard have to stay with Lazarescu until a hospital admits him. At 3:30 a.m. they locate a hospital that can treat him, but he's too confused to sign the consent form and the doctor refuses to operate. By the time they get him to a hospital at 4 a.m. that will operate on him without his signature, it's too late. That the vic's first name is Dante, is an allegorical hint enough to take this journey to be similar to Dante's Inferno.

REVIEWED ON 9/29/2006        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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