The Death Of Mr Lazarescu

The Death Of Mr Lazarescu

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Realism, neo-realism, cinema verite? What's it all about, Alfie? Are movies entertainment, or social commentary? Discuss.

On second thoughts... don't.

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They are both. Or were, until recently, when the demands of commercialism and the free market snuffed out the honourable tradition of East European filmmaking. Now, it's celebrities, rom-coms and vampire flicks, when once it was Wajda, Jancso, Forman, Menzel and Kieslowski.

Cristi Puiu's The Death Of Mr Lazarescu is a reminder of what it was like when writer/directors had the freedom to be truthful without fear of being shut down by penny-pinching producers. How it was made in Romania in 2005 demands an investigative documentary all of its own. Here is a two-and-a-half-hour film about a lonely, grumpy, 62-year-old, borderline alcoholic's experience at the hands of the Bucharest health service. It is not his probable demise that matters, but how he is treated along the way.

As well as a critique of the system, it is a character study of those who come in contact with the dying man. After complaining of feeling unwell, his neighbours across the landing in the tenement block offer sympathy, advice ("Stop mixing the drinks") and practical help - they ring for an ambulance, which takes hours to arrive.

After that he is shuttled from one hospital to another - three in all - in search of a CT scanner that works - or doesn't have a ginormous queue - and a neurosurgeon who is prepared to operate on what might be a brain tumour. His angel of mercy is Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu), the ambulance paramedic, who refuses to leave him on a trolley in some fetid corridor, unattended and forgotten, like so much human detritus.

Despite Ion Fiscuteanu's performance, which can only be described as an act of inspired disintegration, Mr Lazarescu is not an amusing companion. A hypochondriac on permanent whine mode, he is a bad example of the dignity of old age and watching him slowly going downhill as the night progresses becomes a feat of endurance.

In the style of Kieslowski's Dekalog, Puiu makes no concessions to his audience, which is admirable in one respect and disappointing in another. Are movies entertainment, or social commentary? Mr L's progress through the grim reaper's waiting room is definitely the latter.

Bring sandwiches.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2006
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The Romanian health service is exposed as a sixtysomething borderline alcoholic progresses through the grim reaper’s waiting room.
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Natasha Footman **

Director: Cristi Puiu

Writer: Cristi Puiu, Razvan Radulescu

Starring: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, Dana Dogaru, Florin Zamfirescu, Clara Voda, Adrian Titieni, Mihai Bratila, Mimi Branescu, Rodica Lazar, Alina Berzunteanu, Mirela Cioaba

Year: 2005

Runtime: 155 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Romania

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