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Where's the accused?,
This review is from: The Death Of Mr Lazarescu  [DVD] (DVD)
I found 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu' difficult viewing at first, not for its subject matter, but its pace (slow) before it grips your interest. It is a real slow-burner of a film.
I'm surprised that nobody so far has picked up the analogy to Dante Alighieri's 'Divine Comedy', the circles of hell becoming the nightmare world of bureaucracy in modern life (disclaimers, stamping documentation) as Mr Lazarescu is driven around Bucharest in his surreal night journey. Mr Lazarescu's first name (Dante), his brother-in-law (Virgil) and, at the end of the film, as a comatose Mr Lazarescu lies awaiting his operation from which perhaps he will never awake, he is sent to a doctor (Anghel) and another medical colleague, Virgil. It may be pushing the correspondences, but the female paramedic who accompanies him becomes his 'Beatrice' (guide) as they navigate the harassed, overworked world of social care beset by bureaucracy and indifference. I think one reviewer correctly said that this film isn't just about social care in Romania, but about hospitals everywhere.
The film does possess some grim, black humour as poor Mr Lazarescu is carted from one hospital to another (and different departments) with his condition rapidly deteriorating. Nobody ever seems to know what is wrong with him as he encounters different medical staff who are either rude, coldly efficient (illness is their business) or bored indifference. Mr Lazarescu thinks it could be his stomach; one doctor thinks it's his liver; another specialist identifies a blood clot on his brain. As a patient, Mr Lazarescu represents us, the everyman, and he is presented as confused and rude, as anyone would be who suddenly experiences the disorienting effects of illness, but he is also allowed moments of dignity (his concern for his cats, he apologises to Mioara the paramedic for causing her trouble and asks about her family background - simple moments of human connection, understated but made all the more powerful because Dante Lazaresu is a widower with a daughter living abroad in Toronto). One doctor brutally tells Dante that he has problems alright,but 'in his head'. Mr Lazarescu receives 'care', but nobody ever asks why he drinks and it becomes clear to the viewer that he has never quite got over his wife's death and his life has fallen apart. Well, that is my 'emotional diagnosis'.
Often I found the apparently mundane scenes happening in the background illuminated the main story. In one hospital, a wife receives healthcare accompanied by a supportive husband (their fortieth wedding anniversary). In another, Mariana & Mioara talk about marriage. We are subtly reminded of Mr Lazarescu's late wife and that his physical disintegration has been preceded by an emotional one.
The film is also about the paramedic as she struggles to get Mr Lazarescu to receive treament. She almost becomes a surrogate wife, helping him change clothes, chiding & comforting him. She and Mr Lazarescu are the emotional heart of the film. I particularly enjoyed, if that is the right word, the scenes in the Filaret hospital where she encounters two very stroppy doctors who do not take kindly to her comments for them to act (they argue over the scan results) and spend more time arguing with Mioara the paramedic whilst the patient slips into a coma. That is where the film reaches black comedy, particularly over the 'disclaimer' venturing into Catch-22 territory.
I thought the final scenes moving as Mr Lazarescu perhaps receives the final dignified moments denied to him in the film as he is shaved and washed by a nurse. There is little dialogue, just a final ablution of a dying old man. Naked and shaved, Dante reminds us of a new-born baby, helpless.
The film is also about how life & death are entwined. As Dante Lararescu receives treatment or should that be 'endures', medical staff exchange banter on married life such as Mioara with Mariana, a colleague at the University Hospital; the doctor who needs a Nokia mobile to get in touch with his wife. Life still carries on around Dante as he is slips out of this world such as the neurologist who flirts with a fellow colleague and then tells a brazen lie to do her a favour regarding Dante's treatment.
If this film makes us uncomfortable, then perhaps it is because it is a much more truthful depiction of what it is to be ill in the modern world. The particular locale of Romania adds another dimension (hints of bribery), but this film is a necessary antidote to a many of the films/television about social care (exaggerated soap operas) as well as a film about life & mortality as happens to one lonely old man, who represents us in all our shared vulnerability.