CAPSULE: This is a film not so much about death as about the experience of dying in modern society. It is a realistic look at the last hours of a dying man as he goes through the wheels of the medical bureaucracy of Romania--probably not too different from our own. The film feels very real and not a little scary since the viewer knows that he is very likely to eventually likely to share Lazarescu's fate. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
With the steady diet of violent films we see in our theaters we see death all the time. But we rarely see dying the way it happens to most people. The plot of THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU is really very simple. While I hate to spoil the ending, it is a chronicle of just what it says it is: the death of a man. The film is set in Romania and in what is for long stretches real time, it shows what is perhaps the typical death of a typical Romanian.
Mr. Lazarescu has a headache and has felt bad all day. He lives by himself with only the three pet cats upon whom he dotes. His apartment is cluttered and he sports a two-day growth of beard. When his symptoms become severe enough, he gets help first from neighbors and then from the Romanian health care system. That system is very much like ours and what Lazarescu goes through in the next few hours is much like an American would. (Perhaps in Romania there is less emphasis on his healthcare coverage and how he is going to pay for the medical care that he gets.) The Romanian medical facilities are much like ours in technological advancement, but the buildings and facilities seem of a little lower budget. A continuing theme is that everybody who sees Lazarescu first suggests that he has just been drinking too much, though it turns out that has nothing to do with his medical problems.
We see varying degrees of emotional involvement and proficiency by the various people who Lazarescu sees. Many of the professionals are less than professional and are thinking more of their personal lives. A few take a real interest in Lazarescu. The ambulance assistant who is one of the first to see Lazarescu takes the greatest personal interest and follows Lazarescu through the system. The fact that the patient has a stranger who takes such an interest in him probably makes this case atypical and means that he is much better off than a person in his position would be likely to be. Certainly Romania seems to have its own medical bureaucracy. Lazarescu is shunted from one hospital to another. He is in four hospitals before anybody gives him any real treatment beyond a few diagnostics. As his evening wears on, more and more dignity is stripped from Lazarescu who slips first into incoherence and then unconsciousness. Perhaps the rapidity of his decline is another way in which Lazarescu is lucky. If these events went on for months rather than just an evening it would have been a much less comfortable death.
The film was directed by Cristi Puiu, who also co-authored the screenplay with Razvan Radulescu. They chose a style that is realistic and almost like a documentary. The film is shot with a handheld camera. The version I saw on DVD had good readable subtitles, though with my knowledge of medicine much was still incomprehensible. Because so much of the film is in real-time and the wheels of the medical machine run slowly, the film is slow-paced and drags a little during its 150-minute length. Nor does the title leave much room for suspense. We feel a little sympathetic for the main character, though less so when he lies about his condition to people who are trying to help him. But the real sympathy for him is that what he is going through is at once terrifying and common to just about everybody.
This film has already won several international film awards and is likely to be an Academy Award contender. I rate THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper