English Title: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Original Title: Moartea domnului Lazarescu
Director: Cristi Puiu
Music: Andreea Paduraru
Romanian writer-director Cristi Puiu’s second-feature, which debuted in Cannes and won Un Certain Regard Award, and has received numerous awards and instantly established Puiu as a pioneering force of the Romanian New Wave movement starting from the noughties, like his compatriots Cristian Mungiu (4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, 2007 and BEYOND THE HILLS 2012), Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST 2006, and POLICE, ADJECTIVE 2009) and Calin Peter Netzer (CHILD’S POSE 2013).
The story is inspired by a true event, and the title is a big spoiler of Mr. Lazarescu’s (Fiscuteanu) fate, he is a 62-year-old widower, lived alone with his three cats in a squalid apartment in Bucharest, one normal Saturday, he calls for an ambulance since he has headache and stomach pain, but it never arrives, so he has to seek aid from his next-door neighbours Sandu (Ana) and his wife Mihaela (Dogaru), Sandu calls again for an ambulance when they find out there is blood in Lazarescu’s vomit, this time, it finally arrives with a middle-aged paramedic Mioara (Gheorghiu), who decides to bring him to a hospital immediately for fear that he has colon cancer. Unfortunately, a severe bus accident just happened not too long ago nearby, the hospitals are in full steam, thus they, with the ambulance driver Leo (Spahiu), embark on an exhausting odyssey from different hospitals, due to various reasons, the hospitals are crammed with injured passengers from the accident, working overtime with stress and fatigue or personal judgement towards Lazarescu, a stinky old drunkard, who doesn’t value his own health by habitually drinking even though he had an ulcer surgery over a decade before, doctors refuse to admit him although clearly he is gravely ill. Lazarescu’s condition deteriorates rapidly during the course, only in a fourth hospital, doctors reluctantly agree an emergent operation to remove a blood clot in his brain, by that time, he has already fallen into unconsciousness, and the film aptly ends.
Shot archly in hand-held camera, unescorted with score (save the two songs in the opening and ending credits), the most prominent feature of this daring picture is the TV documentary style of shooting, the camerawork faithfully records even the minutest movement of its objects with intimate urgency, from the dilapidated apartment, to the run-down ambulance, to real hospitals, it non-judgmentally observes the happening with aplomb and relentlessly non-protruding, immaculately meshes with a sterling cast, whose performances are so spontaneous and realistic, no trace of acting can be detected, although they are all pros. The MVP, apart from our protagonist Fiscuteanu, who uncannily has passed away in 2007 because of the same colon cancer, is Gheorghiu’s Mioara, she is the one who determinedly stays with Mr. Lazarescu, a cranky stranger she has just met, and witnesses his unfair treatment, but cannot help, whereas she has to tolerate all the snide and reproach from the superior and opinionated doctors silently. It is a chilling story, one might argue, timing is not on his side, poor Mr. Lazarescu, if only there was no bus accident maybe he could have been treated in time, yet, this is merely a plot device to aggravate the situation, to put those angels-in-white in a crucible to reveal their disguised shortcomings which might hide quite well under usual circumstances. Down to the nitty-gritty, what disheartening is the responsibility-shifting strategy, the rampant distrust from different hospitals, the bureaucratic procedures, the knee-jerking response from all the doctors is the same, blaming Lazarescu for his drinking problem, clearly, it is not the right time to scold, for doctors, their mission is to save life, not preaching a patient when he is in dire need of operation, frankly speaking, Lazarescu is not an amicable person, but this doesn’t give them an excuse to stand in a moral high point and mistreat such an old soul in his critical moment.
The medical system has its flaws, for sure, but what I find more admirable is that it grittily lays bare the ugly truth – how easy to ruin a man life because of one’s own bias, it is not personal any more, it fatally damages the foundation of our society. Also, imagine, if Mr. Lazarescu has a next-of-kin with him, who can fight for his right when being shuffled, the denouement might not be the same. In a nutshell, the film is a fierce dissection of the maladies concealed amongst human relationships in our society, highly thought-provoking and a must-see for cineastes.