-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
The Death Of Mr Lazarescu|
cast: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, and Dana Dogaru
director: Cristi Puiu
150 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Set in the suburbs of Bucharest, The Death Of Mr Lazarescu (aka: Moartea domnului
Lazarescu) chronicles the final hours in the life of Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu).
Once an engineer with a family, Lazarescu now lives alone in a tiny flat with a couple of
smelly flea-bitten cats. He wakes up one morning with a splitting headache and begins to
drink and pop painkillers but by the evening, he is in such pain that he calls an ambulance.
The first hour of the film is played out in real time as Lazarescu tries to borrow some
painkillers from a neighbour only to have them lecture him on his drinking and generally
boss him around. This cycle repeats itself again and again, as a paramedic turns up and
then tries to get him admitted to a local hospital. Each new medical person to look at
Lazarescu gives him the same grief about being drunk and then refuses to do anything for
him because the hospitals are full. Each move makes Lazarescu weaker and less coherent but
right up until the end, he refuses to go quietly.
Shot on shoulder-mounted cameras in a faux-documentary or cinema verite style, The Death
of Mr Lazarescu's title makes the ending of its simple and cyclical narrative a foregone
conclusion but underneath the gritty realism and the linear storytelling is a deeply symbolic
and complex film.
The first aspect of the film that one notices is the satirical take on matters of health.
Everyone Lazarescu encounters chides him about his drinking and then tries to boss him around
before ultimately abandoning him. From the neighbours who try and force-feed him mousaka to
the doctors who talk down to him before shipping him off to the next hospital, Puiu suggests
that illness is one of those areas of human existence where suddenly everyone is an expert
but for which nobody is willing to take responsibility. While his stinging criticisms of the
Romanian healthcare system are slightly watered down by the fact that Lazarescu has chosen to
die on the same night as a huge bus crash, the point remains... we humans are not at our best
when dealing with the sick.
The only person who stands by Lazarescu through these problems is the paramedic who first
encounters him. Her red metallic hair suggest she is in her forties but as the film progresses
it turns out that not only is she in her mid-fifties but, just like Lazarescu, she has a child
that she is estranged from. She is helping Lazarescu because she can see herself in his position.
Aside from the more substantial ideas, the film also features little jokes like Lazarescu
informing the paramedic that he has a perfectly normal diet composed entirely of cold-cuts
and cheese... the breakfast of Romanian champions! There is also a moment at the very end
where Lazarescu's head is shaved and sterilised with alcohol, the very thing that every
single doctor has berated him for using. Even Lazarescu's name carries symbolic weight,
nodding not only at The Divine Comedy's author Dante Alighieri and Remus, the
co-founder of Rome, but also Lazarus, the man raised from the dead by Jesus.
At two and a half hours long, The Death Of Mr Lazarescu is not a short film and
the endless repetition of meeting a new doctor who criticises Lazarescu's drinking only
for Lazarescu to fight back before being shipped on to the next hospital doesn't exactly
make for thrilling viewing. Indeed, while there is clearly a lot going on in this film it
is mostly in the background of what is really quite a dull story about an old lonely man
dying. The film's lack of energy is compounded by Puiu's mayfly attention span as he flits
from jokes about the Romanian diet to political satire to waxing philosophical about how
everyone dies alone. The points he does make are ably communicated but lack any real depth
to them, and there are so many ideas floating around in this film that it proves to be a
frustrating experience for those attempting to decrypt what is buried in the prima facie
For all the craft and intelligence its director displays, The Death Of Mr Lazarescu
lacks focus and falls into that classic art house trap of making a film that is undeniably
clever but nonetheless remarkably dull.