(Moartea domnului Lazarescu)

Directed by Cristi Puiu. 2005.

Talking Pictures alias







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Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu), a 62-year old retired engineer, is brought to an emergency room by ambulance complaining of stomach and head pains. It is a night in which Bucharest’s hospitals are filled with survivors from a bus accident. Berated by haughty “professionals” for not taking good care of himself, Lazarescu is shunted from hospital to hospital as we watch his condition slowly deteriorate. Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s Kafkaesque masterpiece, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu dramatizes the deplorable conditions in Bucharest’s emergency rooms where overworked and underpaid health care workers show callous indifference to their patients instead of concern and compassion. The film not only indicts a specific healthcare system but also a more universal indifference to suffering. 

Since his wife died eight years ago and his married daughter Bianca moved to Toronto, Canada, Lazarescu has lived alone in a small, dirty apartment in Bucharest, Romania. His only companions are three flea-bitten cats and a suspicious home grown brew called Mastropol. When he starts to feel pain in his stomach and his temples, he ascribes it to a reaction to the ulcer surgery he had fourteen years ago and takes aspirin and other painkillers such as Diclofenac but they only cause him to vomit. Seeking the help of neighbors Miki and Sandu Sterian (Dana Dogaru, Doru Ana), he gets only a lecture on his drinking habits, the smell of his apartment, and an offer to eat some leftover Moussaka. 

When he begins to vomit blood, however, he calls for an ambulance but it takes more than a half hour to arrive. Weakened by his illness, he falls into his bathtub. When 52-year old nurse Mioara Avram (Luminta Gheorghiu) finally shows up, her lack of personal concern is palpable. She too blames his illness on the alcohol she smells on his breath but, after examining him, suspects that he has colon cancer and asks the Sterians to accompany him to the hospital but both refuse. During the long night that follows, however, she remains with him and is the closest thing he has to a friend. Lazarescu is taken to a series of hospitals but is callously dismissed as an old drunk by doctors and hospital staff who are exhausted after a night of treating victims of the bus crash. 

One young doctor asks him, “Did I put the bottle in your hand, you pig?” Another offers the idea that “his liver is as big as the parliament house”. When the patient tells a surgeon his head hurts, the surgeon gives the patient a pat on the head and exclaims: “Good, it means you have one!” The film has been called a black comedy but the situations we see are more absurd than comedic. Doctors and nurses chat about irrelevancies such as a cell phone that will not charge and argue with the paramedic who brought him as to priorities and who has the highest authority. 

As the old man who the doctors arrogantly call “pops” is given one test after another, we are silent witnesses to his inevitable decline. We want to scream at the screen as Lazarescu’s gradually loses his ability to walk and to control his bladder but we know that his fate has been sealed. Finally at 4:00 am, after being prepped for surgery to relieve a blood clot on his brain, a surgery that should have taken place hours before, Lazarescu sinks into incoherence and finally unconsciousness. As he goes gently into that good night, we alone are left to rage against the dying of the light. Like the dying priest in Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest, we learn again what it means to be human and we know that the meek will inherit the earth. 


Howard Schumann
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