The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

I have seen the best film of the year. That film is “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.”

Andy & I saw it last night at the Film Festival. We’d had a terrible evening. I realized early yesterday morning that I had a terrible cold, and felt like crap. We were supposed to go to dinner, but I didn’t feel up to it. Instead Andy made dinner, and through a series of events I won’t go into we didn’t have time to eat. We weren’t really talking to each other at this point. Then we waited forever for the bus to come, I almost thought we’d be late, and then once at the theatre we were stuck in the ticket holders’ line in front of the two most annoying people on the planet. Sample dialogue:

HER: I’ve never done this film festival thing because it’s a crap shoot. I mean you can read the capsule reviews but they don’t mean anything. You can get stuck … like I went to this Russian movie and it was some weird sci fi thing …

Finally we were seated comfortably, and as the lights went down and the film started I had my clutch of Kleenex on my lap to stem the bottomless tide flowing from my nose.

All this background colored my experience of the film.

“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” unfolds in near-real time, composed entirely of long takes. A 62-year old man who lives by himself in a sad apartment on the outskirts of Bucarest feeds his cats one evening, and then he calls for an ambulance. He’s been throwing up since morning and has a headache. The ambulance takes upwards of 30 minutes to arrive, and in the meanwhile he gets an earful from his next-door neighbors. Everyone nags him about drinking too much and no one seems to want to take his ailments seriously. Not even as he is shuttled around from hospital to hospital, his condition steadily deteriorating, most of the medical personnel seemed more concerned with their own problems and maintaining their social status among the other staff.

I was sick last night, and Joey being in the hospital was still very much on my mind, and this made the film all the more vivid for me. I have plenty of experience of my own when it comes to hospitals. The film precisely duplicates many moments I remember from my time as a patient: moments when you’re so out of it and incoherent and weak that you can’t speak, you can’t move, yet you never lose awareness of what’s going on around you, the doctors and nurses speaking of you in the third person as they hover over your bed. Doctor after doctor asking the same questions, running the same tests, putting you through the limitless moments of waiting.

The style of the film is a lot like a Frederick Wiseman documentary. There is no flashy editing, it’s all straight cuts, and there is no music except over the credits. The action just unfolds. The ambient sound puts the viewer directly in the scene and you absorb the entire environment, even when it’s offscreen.

The icing on the cake is the dark humor that’s present in every scene. It reminded me somewhat of “The Hospital,” the great Paddy Chayefsky satire that turned medical incompetence into farce. Only in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” director Cristi Puiu plays every scene bone dry. All the actors are flawless.

I was stunned and exhilarated when it was over. I don’t know if this film will get national distribution, but keep your eyes peeled. It’s an amazing experience.

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