Moartea domnului Lazarescu (2005): A Hellish Ride

God, I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but I really loved Moartea domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mister Lazarescu). It was such an accomplished transition for Cristi Puiu, from his earlier works like the 2001 movie Marfa si banii (with the unappealing English title: Stuff and Dough) or his slice of life short Un cartus de Kent si un pahar de cafea (Coffee and Cigarettes). And while I have yet to see this year’s promising Sierranevada, Lazarescu is, to me, the perfect career highlight for Puiu, before he became overindulgent with the time-sprawling nature of his work.

moartea dl lazarescu

So, Mr. Lazarescu: nearing 63, lives alone with his three cats, underwent surgery due to ulcer, has a sister still living in Romania and a daughter who left (it seems) unannounced and moved to Canada. This is the man: old, alone and ill. A terrible fate.

Puiu’s movie, inspired by true events (some years ago, a man was transported from one hospital to the other with a most tragic consequence) follows its protagonist through the final stages of his life: feeling ill, Lazarescu calls for an ambulance and awaits its (delayed) arrival drinking and making telephone calls. As the hands of the clock turn and the ambulance is nowhere to be heard or seen, the old man goes next door, trying to get some help from the neighbors: a stereotype of their kind. Once the ambulance finally arrives, Lazarescu embarks on a most dreadful road trip, from hospital to hospital, in an elaborate attempt to diagnose and operate him. The story begins.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge the film’s authenticity from the outset. Truly segmented – as the director himself affirmed, regarding “Lazarescu” as the first in six stories about the Romanian capital – in several (short) “stories of Bucharest”, we meet most intriguing characters and situations, each of them highly rewarding on different levels. Good doctors, bad doctors, grumpy doctors, snobbish doctors, pitiful doctors – all the guys and girls our great medical system can offer. Still, some continue to resemble human beings, which – to a certain degree – is quite an achievement.

The bad light Puiu sheds on them may be diminished by the fact that the night Lazarescu chose to fall ill was most unfortunate: a terrible car accident filled most of the hospitals so that it was extremely difficult to find a place for an old, drunk man who was automatically labeled as a drinker and treated as such. Few characters in the film show authentic sympathy for Lazarescu, as most of them just want to get on with the job and do themselves a greater good. There is no such concept of readiness to help a fellow man struggling between life and death: commodity reigns. Unlike Lazarus, our main character will most probably not rise from the dead. And the people who still stand and didn’t give their everything are up to their throats in guilt.

But this is the terrible, depressing half of the story. A most regretful reality. Cristi Puiu’s and Razvan Radulescu’s (a bit overlong) script is at times filled with moments of sheer irony, sarcasm and cynicism, all worth their laughs. Some of these moments are brilliant. Lazarescu is witty and gutsy, as long as he can talk. He is a man who – despite what others think – wants to stand up for himself and would rather not let anyone treat him like scum. Sadly, though, all is part of a gigantic vicious circle: doctors remain people and patients are not at all different. Flawed. Yet, there is a question of humanity and dignity involved. A choice between what is right and what is easy, as the saying goes – and my favourite Romanian new wave film.

*****

Originally published on imdb.