Monday, June 27, 2011

Have you been drinking?

No 270 - Moartea Domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu)
Director - Cristi Puiu

My knowledge of Romania is not massive, and mainly stems to a 10 day holiday romance with a girl called Jo which I had on a school trip to France aged 17 and a bottle of homebrew which I drank on the same school trip. It looked like Ribena and tasted like meths. The man that gave it to me delivered it with the greatest quote ever.

In our country we drink this in winter to stay warm....
and we drink it in summer.... to stay warm.

Jo taught me that Romanian is surprisingly similar to Italian (enough that she was able to translate an Italian play for me) - that homebrew taught me that Romanians drink savage savage shit. And it is that point which is at the heart of The Death of Mr Lazarescu.

This film is classed as a comedy, and if you get your chuckles from watching an old man slowly die, you are in for a treat! There are some little moments which made me smile (mainly down to the few bearable members of medical staff) but most of this film frustrated me. An old man (older than his years) is ill and is caught in some kind of bureaucratic nightmare as he moved from hospital to hospital and from unit to unit.
Some of these doctors are nice. I particularly like the couple who seem to be involved in the second hospital. I like their shameless and borderline unprofessional flirting and how they get distracted having little domestics. They are a sweet couple and (most importantly) they are worried about Mr Lazarescu. Whereas other hospitals are wrapped up in admin or refuse to treat him as he has alcohol on his lips....

It does paint the Romanian health service in a terrifying light, as it seems very easy for people to just die. Just die.

Now.... I don't want to focus on how much the story annoyed me and how much I wanted to punch some of the doctors throughout. I presume that that was kind of the point. What I wanted to highlight was the amazing performance from Ion Fiscuteanu as the titular Mr Lazarescu. From the start of the film you can see the depth and layers within the character. Here is a man who is clearly unhappy and clearly lonely. He isn't that close to anyone (he has some kind of strained relationship with his brother in law as witnessed in a phone call) apart from the stray cats which he takes in.
But the really impressive nature is that as the film progresses, Lazarescu's health massively deteriorates. What starts as him being obnoxious, becomes a tired, confused and scared man before finally he is just gone. No longer understanding the questions asked of him nor understanding where he is.

This is not a comfortable watch, and despite the occasional smile-inducing moment, there is no way I'd call it a comedy, or even a comedy-drama. It is really a bleak look at bullying doctors, bullshit bureaucracy and the dangers of drinking too much alcohol.

Perfect film for a nice summer's day.