Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/13/09 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Cristi Puiu with a script he co-wrote with Razvan Radulescu, Moartea domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) tells the story of an old, cranky engineer who becomes ill as he calls for an ambulance. Instead, he goes on a series of adventures as he's being neglected by doctors and being moved from one hospital to another. A commentary on the medical system and its treatment of patients, the film is a dark yet comical view on the system itself. Starring Ion Fiscuteanu and Luminita Gheorghiu. Moartea domnului Lazarescu is a eerie yet entrancing film from Cristi Puiu.
Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) is feeling ill. Complaining of stomach problems relating to an ulcer surgery some years ago as well as a headache. He calls for an ambulance for help as he waits and waits. While drinking some alcohol to calm him, he lives alone with his 3 cats while his wife had died 8 years ago and his daughter is now married and living in Toronto. After throwing up, he goes to his neighbors for help but his health deteriorates as he tries to take some pills while is throwing up blood. After several calls, a nurse named Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) arrives to check on his condition. Realizing the seriousness of his condition that he might have colon cancer, she asks the neighbor's wife to call his older sister to come in to Bucharest the next day.
After arriving into the hospital, he is checked upon but he and the nurse receive harsh criticism from the doctor over his drinking and convinced that his problem is nothing of concern. Yet, the doctor does suggest that he should go to another hospital for CT scan to check on his liver. Mioara and her drive Leo (Gabriel Spahieu) accompany to the University hospital where at first, they're asked to go another hospital due to an overcrowding relating to a horrific bus crash accident that the previous hospital is dealing with. Yet, they're taken in as a young doctor checks on Lazarescu as well as older, bearded one named Dragos who sees that something is indeed wrong. Yet, Dragos suggests that he should go to another place while he does feel that a CT scan should be immediately but the wait might be longer. During the CT scan, a friend of Mioara in Mariana helps Lazarescu during the scan while a young doctor reveals some grim news.
Going to a third hospital, Lazarescu and Mioara arrive to a young group of doctors but the reception they receive is harsh. Though they reveal some news about Lazarescu, an attempt to have him sign a disclaimer didn't work as Lazarescu can barely speak coherently while his condition rapidly deteriorates. After being shunned at the third hospital, they go to one last hospital where Mr. Lazarescu will receive treatment in what is a hell of a night for him.
If the day of birth has to be overwhelming on the person, that can't be compared to the final moments of your life in the same situation that Dante Remus Lazarescu had to go through. On the course of an entire night, Lazarescu goes through a moment that he won't forget as he lays there dying. Throughout the journey, he's treated and then moved from one hospital to another where he finds his health deteriorate to the point that he can barely talk or move. He's relieving himself countless times, he stinks, his breath is filled with booze, and he's still cranky. The one person that's with him throughout this entire journey is a paramedic, who has worked in the system for years. While she isn't a doctor, she's seen enough to know what's going on. At times, she is asked for her opinions with professionalism but other times, is treated with contempt because she's inferior to them.
Cristi Puiu creates a drama that is engrossing in these final hours that are told in a two-and-a-half hour film. Yet, it's length and pacing creates a test of sorts for the audience where not everyone will enjoy its pacing or length. Puiu's approach into staging the drama with little cuts in order to examine all of the chaos that goes on in the medical room is deliberate. Especially since it all takes place on an entire night. The directing style is all hand-held, verite style that captures all that is going on without any kind of false drama while the humor is subtle yet cynical to reveal the fate of its protagonist. Despite some issues with its length and pacing, Puiu creates a film that is truly mesmerizing yet harrowing.
Cinematographers Oleg Mutu and Andrei Butica do excellent work with the grainy, hand-held style that keeps things moving while capturing all the drama. For the scenes in Lazarescu's apartment, it's all low-lit with little colors along with the scenes inside the ambulance. At the hospitals, it's all bright to play up to its mood and chaotic feel with Butica being the camera operator with the hand-held work being mostly steady but often moves in its dramatic tone. Editor Dana Bunescu does some very good work with the film's cutting in order to give the film a rhythmic feel with jump-cuts. Yet, its length and pacing could've been helped if the scenes with long takes could've had more cuts to keep the rhythm flowing.
Production/costume designer Cristina Barbu does some fine work with the dirty look of Lazarescu's apartment with the place a mess as it's filled with cats and such. The costumes meanwhile, have this grungy look that plays well to the cranky personality of Lazarescu. Sound editor Constantin Fleancu does very good work with the sound to capture all of the chaos that goes on at the hospital. The film's soundtrack doesn't feature music at all throughout the film except in the opening and closing credits, two songs performed by Margareta Paslaru.
The casting by Ana Szel is excellent with its array of small, memorable performances Doru Ana and Dana Dogaru as Lazarescu's neighbors, Florin Zamfirescu as the first doctor at the hospital, Adrian Titeni as the second doctor named Dragos, Mihai Bratila as the CT scan doctor, Mimi Branescu as the third female doctor, and Monica Barladeanu as Mioara's friend Mariana. Gabriel Spahieu is really good as Leo, the driver who accompanies Lazarescu and Mioara throughout the entire film as he is amazed by this journey while revealing he's divorced with a two-year old daughter. Luminita Gheorghiu is great as Mioara, the paramedic who accompanies Lazarescu throughout this journey as she tries to get him help despite his crankiness and troubled behavior. Finally, there's Ion Fiscuteanu in a brilliant performance as Dante Remus Lazarescu. The protagonist who is dealing with a surgery, the death of his wife, and alcoholism as his health is now troubling to the point that he can't deal with anything. It's a great performance for an actor who has to be able to pull something with kind of physicality to show a man be near death.
While it's not a perfect film due to its length, pacing, and some subtitles that are in white which at times, are hard to read. Moartea domnului Lazarescu is an excellent film from Cristi Puiu featuring phenomenal performances from Ion Fiscuteanu and Luminita Gheorghiu. While it's a film that does take a very harrowing view on the Romanian medical system, it's a film that is engrossing in its journey and how a man has to deal with all that is going. Despite its imperfections, Moartea domnului Lazarescu is still a film worth checking out for its drama and stripped-down cinematic style from Cristi Puiu.
(C) thevoid99 2011