The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

"Excellent"

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu Review


Romanian director Cristi Puiu's first entry in a planned sextet of films about different sorts of love goes against everything Hollywood has taught us about death up until now. The film industry has nonchalantly become terribly cheerful about death, allowing crass sentimentality or ridiculous denial to be the only ways of handling it. People die ad nauseum in explosions and shoot-outs and we don't mind. Or Mandy Moore succumbs to cancer, not with pain or annoyance at procedure, but while confessing love to Devon Sawa and simply drifts off, certainly to heaven. It seems hopelessly hollow and never really cuts to the straight and narrow of mortality, instead seeing death as just a spell of bad luck. Puiu's film dispenses with the formalities and get right down to the nitty-gritty.

Mr. Lazarescu, played brilliantly by Ion Fiscuteanu, sits in his apartment, waiting impatiently for an ambulance he has called for. His neighbor, Sandu (Doru Ana), waits with him, occasionally complaining about his wife and constantly telling Lazarescu to stop drinking. Lazarescu has already vomited three times and is trying desperately to get rid of a pounding headache. His apartment is in complete squalor and when the nurse, Mioara (the amazing Luminita Gheorghiu), finally gets him in the ambulance, he won't stop yelling for Sandu to take care of his four cats. What follows is a ride through hell as Mioara attempts to get Lazarescu medical attention at four separate hospitals, all of which are too busy with their egos or others in need. His hardened liver and agonizing headaches are blamed on alcoholism instead of what Mioara believes it to be: a hematoma or even a tumor.

Lazarescu is certainly about one man's darkly funny medical hell leading to his demise, but Puiu is talking about bigger things. Humanity's unbearable ability to become selfish even when someone simply needs help is put up to a glaring light. However, we also see the kindness and generosity of people who stay up until 3am just to have to clean a babbling patient who soils himself. Puiu expertly crafts each scene and works with the actors to make each small character a fully rounded persona. In the film's most grueling scene, we see a doctor debase Mioara for telling him the diagnosis and then refuse to perform surgery on Lazarescu because he's too far gone to sign a form. How fascinating it is to see Puiu dissect the politics of medical hierarchy rather than go with the easy "does he have insurance?" gag.

Above all, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu carries a gentle parable of the delicacy of mortality. We're all going to die and it might not be with our families around us, eyes hidden behind a vest of tears. Even Richard Pryor realized eventually that we all die alone, and Puiu's film understands that and takes no measures to overly romanticize the idea. As he waits for his neighbors before the ambulance arrives, Lazarescu sits in the stairway and watches two young girlfriends, a mother and her baby, and a married couple pass him in the stairway, ignoring him. It's the world of the living, young, and alive, evading the sight and look of death and old age. If there is a God, he's got to be smirking just a little bit.

DVD extras include an interview with the director and a "perspective" on the U.S. healthcare system.

Aka Moartea domnului Lazarescu.

Break on through to the other side.



The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Facts and Figures

Run time: 150 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 22nd September 2005

Distributed by: Tartan Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 69 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Cristi Puiu

Producer: Anca Puiu, Bobby Paunescu

Starring: Ion Fiscuteanu as Mr. Lazarescu, Luminita Gheorghiu as Mioara Avram, Doru Ana as Sandu Sterian, Monica Barladeanu as Mariana, Alina Berzunteanu as Dr. Zamfir, Doru Boguta as Ambulantier, Alexandru Potocean as Brancardier, Spitualui Bagdasar

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