Poor Mr. Lazarescu. His head has been aching all day, he's been vomitting and yet no one will help him. He's called the ambulance twice, and it has taken forever for it to arrive. He's even visited his neighbors to ask them if they have any painkillers, but, they seem a little annoyed. Not to mention his brother-in-law is hounding him about money he owes him.
This is pretty much the set-up to Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu". And the title gives away the ending, so, we are only left with the middle.
"The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" is one of the first, if not the first Romanian film to receive huge international fame and actually be released in America in recent times.
Ever since the fall of Communism in Romania the country has struggled trying to find its voice. Strickly speaking about their films (we won't even dwell in their politics) they seem to be drawn towards dark, cynical comedies that they think will appeal to western audience (namely Americans). But, Romanian humor is hard for Americans to digest. Most people do not understand our Eastern European humor. Because of this these films have either, not been released in this country or have not gained much cross-over audience appeal.
The solution, of course, is easy. Romanians have to make films that are personal to them, not worry about what will appeal to Westerns. Now that Communism is over, why not make films dealing with life under its rule? Romanians could make human drama dealing with people and how life has changed since Communism's fall. Some films have attempted to do this, but with that dark humor. If Americans are familiar with Romanian films, there is a pretty good chance it is through the films of Lucian Pintilie and "The Oak", which dealt with the very subject of old world Romania meeting new world Romania.
What all of this has to do with this film is "Lazarescu" is at least addressing a "Romanian" problem, but, it has universal appeal. See, if you stick to what you know, others will not only follow, but relate.
The film has a pretty unusually style that American audiences might have a hard time getting adjusted to. The movie was shot primarily with a hand held camera. Why? One could say, well, it's because Romanians have no money and this is the cheapest way to make a film. I'm not sure that's the real reason. I think Puiu wanted the film to be shot this way because he wanted us to feel we are watching a documentary. We are suppose to think of this in terms of being real. Situations such as this really do happen all over the world.
Much of the dialogue is terribly cynical. I didn't find the dialogue particularly funny, but, the situations were humorous. At time I started to wonder though, can it really be true? Can this really be the way doctors talk to their patients?
So much of the film feels true. We are really going along on this man's journey as hospital after hospital refuses to keep the man and find out exactly what is wrong with him.
I think the film also goes beyond just being a satire of Romania's health care system. It is also an attack on bureaucracy. The red tape government officials make us go through.
Director Cristi Puiu says this will be the first of a series of films he plans on calling "stories from suburbs of Bucharest". There will be six in total as Puiu says he was inspired by Eric Rohmer's "six moral tales". In his own words he says the film is about man's regard towards his fellow man. Hopefully with the success of this film, which has won awards at various international film festivals including; Cannes, Norwegian, Transilvania, Independent Spirit Awards and in Chicago, we will see the five other stories in the series.
Bottom-line: Very dark and cynical look not just at Romania's health care system but also a satire on bureaucracy. Director Puiu's debut film carries a nice pace to it by managing to really engage the audience due to the simplicity of the story and the human involvement the actors bring to their roles.