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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) | DVD Review

while certain elements that adorn the offbeat film do carry sarcasm and critique, Puiu’s film is mislabeled as a black comedy

Call this a Romanian biopsy that demonstrates how the indifference and isolation found in patient care is part of a greater problem. Cleverly winking to the Bible character of Lazarus (the one who Jesus raises from the dead), the diagnosis is personal one – this portrait of Bucharest’s faulty infrastructures is one that is personal but not exceptional, and this sophomore feature embraces a realist-approach, offering rich complex cycle of characters and a screenplay that allows for the pandemic to be witnessed in its entirety.

Cristi Puiu’s second feature-length film and the first chapter of a series entitled Six Histoires des Banlieues de Bucarest (“Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest”) was back in 2005, the Jury headed by American director Alexander Payne awarded The Death of Mr. Lazarescu with the Un Certain Regard Prize. Perhaps part of a field of films that weren’t as significantly stronger than the prior years, but the isolation of a 60-plus year old man ailing inside a defective health system garnered the film many nominations and several international awards including the public prize close to home from the 2005 Transilvania International Film Festival.

The pic does a great job at exploring the sad state of affairs – not only is the system ailing but compassion and care are lacking within the social structure. The film’s run time goes over the 2 hour mark – thus adding to making a statement about the interminable stretch and sufferance of those without a voice can endure but while certain elements that adorn the offbeat film do carry sarcasm and critique, Puiu’s film is mislabeled as a black comedy.

Part of European-influenced cinema in terms of narrative and cinematographic style, Puiu explores the sad state of affairs through long takes and a lingering camera giving a sense of how politics causes barriers among people especially within emergency room situations. Each sequence is framed with hand-held proximity – it thus brings Western audiences in close to more than just a Bucharest pandemic but a world one.

Not surprisingly, the nature of the film’s provenance and the shoe-string budget means don’t be surprised by the lack of extra materials included in this piece. For starters, there is no director commentary track and frankly we don’t need one, but Tartan USA did manage to get a full question and answer styled interview with the director –probably during the director’s press engagements in the US for the film’s theatrical release. In the interview, Puiu almost masters the English language, but perhaps it was jet lag or a long day at work that makes him appear as dull as an old saw. Puiu sifts through a series of questions – obviously the genius of the project is what is of interest here. The narrative is a combination of his own personal story with his own medical scare plus the absurdity that he found in a local headline about a man who visited 6 hospitals in one evening only to succumb to his illness and the deficiency of the health care system. He also discusses the notion of why some people can look at this film and think “black comedy” and then he gets into heady matter with a Godard and Fassbinder and discusses how he works from a very detailed script idea. All this is poignant if you found the film to be fruitful and the interview itself is not something you watch actively with interest.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Tartan USA buyers thought the foreign pic was fit for their market is because of the similitude’s in failed health care systems of both nations. Here Tartan includes an interview called “Perspective on the U.S. Healthcare System by Dr. Fred Berlin” – a rather tedious long bit that points out how bureaucracy and insensitiveness can lead to less extreme examples.

The official trailer fills out the rest of the extras – it is perhaps misleading because it promises perhaps a more quirky, upbeat tempo.

First time viewers might want to program a bathroom break and chow session somewhere within the sitting – while Puiu certainly brings a quality to the picture the length and timelessness will make repeat viewings not so necessary. This is a rental for foreign film fans.

Movie rating – 2.5

Disc Rating – 2

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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