Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

director Cristi Puiu

THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU     B+               
Romania  (153 mi)  2005  d:  Cristi Puiu      

Shot with such laser-like realism, many viewers may think this is a searing documentary about the abysmally corrupt Romanian State authorities, as seen through what resembles an antiquated, Kafkaesque health care system.  Sitting through this film is like putting in an extra shift at work, as it amazingly resembles the ordinary rhythms and pace of being at work.  Viewers should be receiving time and a half compensation, as we’re subjected to the mediocrity and prejudices and everyday mistreatment from several hospital staffs, resulting in a scathing and uncompromising look at class inequity, as the treatment of Mr. Lazarescu would be completely different if he was from another economic scale, or if he was somebody.  It recalls the legendary death of blues great Bessie Smith, written about in Downbeat magazine by white record producer John Hammond after she was injured in an auto accident, where she was allegedly refused treatment at three different white hospitals before finally succumbing at a black hospital.  This rumor lasted for decades, and was even re-mythologized in Edward Albee’s 1959 play The Death of Bessie Smith.  As it turns out, despite Mr. Hammond’s refusal to recant his story, there is no truth to this total fabrication.  Yet even if untrue, this mythical tale exposes a truth about Southern racism.  LAZARESCU, accordingly, stands as a mythical tale of societal indifference.    

LAZARESCU, though seemingly real, is a complete fabrication, shot by Oleg Mutu, scripted by the director and co-writer Razvan Radulescu, using professional actors to recreate two and a half hours of ultra realism to scathingly expose multiple truths about social injustice that could be anywhere around the world, telling the story of a man who survived the American WWII bombing campaign over Romania in 1944, which is his last coherent memory, his last moment of dignity before he loses consciousness from a series of fatal medical ailments, including a swollen liver which is placing dangerous blood pressure against his brain.  The film shows how random the quality of medical care can be, where the standard seems to be pawning off patients as someone else’s responsibility, as poor Mr. Lazarescu is driven from hospital to hospital, each distinctly unwilling to deal with him as a patient needing medical care, instead they start creating myths or rumors deconstructing who he is.  He’s a drunk, an alcoholic, he smells, he pees on himself, he’s been drinking so he’s getting what he deserves, does he have any family, is he anybody, is he alone, we can’t help him, why not try someplace else? 

The same series of 3-minute emergency room tests are performed at each different hospital, and the entire process stops dead in its tracks, turning from chaos to a hushed quiet as the doctors are looked upon as holy shamans, demanding absolute obedience as if sent from on high, to perform this exact same standard medical procedure, yet somehow, in each hospital except the last, the medical teams are not up to helping this hopelessly ill man.  They view him as an irritating interruption of their routines.  Even when they eventually perform brain and liver scans, it takes a series of bribes and personal favors, even sexual flattery, to finally get him the tests he needs.  The last hospital, however, doesn’t mess around.  They simply perform professionally according to the need, but by that time, the patient is near death.  He isn’t answering any questions, he isn’t making a fuss, he is completely docile and helpless, as patients are so much easier to render assistance to when they can’t utter a word.  Earlier in the night, he was something of a chatterbox, confusing friend and foe alike, which as it turned out, only prolonged his humiliating ordeal.  Initially, this was expected to be the first of a six part series, but that ambitious project never materialized.  The Romanian writer/director, who’s afraid of flying, opted not to show up for the Chicago Film Festival, but his film took home the Silver Hugo 2nd prize.

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