Monday, February 05, 2007
The Death of Mr. Lazerescu
The Death of Mr. Lazerescu (Cristi Puiu, 2006) 
When one thinks of world cinema, one of the last places that someone like myself would expect quality films to come from would be Romania. This was my first viewing of any film from Romania, and only because this film appeared on both Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum's Best of 2006 lists in Entertainment Weekly. I can't make any generalizations about Romanian cinema but The Death of Mr. Lazerescu is definitely a contender for my best of 2006. The film follows the title character, a man complaining of a headache, as he's shipped from hospital to hospital in a cruel, Kafkaesque journey that encounters some of the most despicable doctors seen anywhere. The film progresses in essentially real time, and Lazerescu over that time deteriorates from a man with a headache to an incoherent man on death's door. His journey is unsettling to say the least, and while a lot of time is spent pretty much waiting and anticipating, it's still kept my attention throughout.
There are two way to look at this film: either literally, which paints Romania and its health care system as the hellhole of the world, or the way I thinks it's supposed to be seen, as a parable of humanity. Almost every review states that this was the first of a series of films Puiu intends to make. The main influence for the series was Rohmer's Six Moral Tales, which this is basically a Romanian version of one. I don't think the film has any political or social commentary to it, at least as it's main point. The film has such a documentary feel to it that makes the camera an objective observer rather than to film a point of view. The greatest strength of Puiu's direction is that he simply lets the camera observe, and not get in the way. He manages to capture all the characters: Lazerescu, the paramedic, the overwhelmed and disdainful doctors and allows them to cover the entire spectrum of emotions and possibilities. The most important moment for me is near the end, when the exhausted medic, who has been taking Lazerescu from hospital to hospital, finally gets the man into surgery, she simply leaves. In a Hollywood film,