Saddening but riveting, and possessed of a positively wicked wit, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is executed with the sensitivity of great literature and the panache of bravura filmmaking.
The 63-year-old Dante Remus Lazarescu is stirred from an alcohol-and-loneliness-induced waking slumber in his filthy Bucharest apartment by a terrible headache and nausea on a glum Saturday night. A feisty paramedic becomes his advocate in a near-real-time journey through levels of medical purgatory populated by weary and peevish doctors who keep him on the verge of treatment for the bulk of the film’s running time.
Director Christi Piui takes a documentary-style approach that never feels heavy or oppressive, and the performances are pitch-perfect and sometimes richly funny. Scenes showing Lazarescu stretched out, helpless, on a gurney, while doctors and nurses converse about their personal lives, berate him for drinking, or try to figure out how to get him an MRI, will have a disquieting currency for anyone who’s ever arrived, bewildered, in an emergency room and sweated the diagnosis. But this one-night-long odyssey through the Romanian healthcare system is also a sharp-eyed look at the dissolution of family and other social networks, and the isolation that can come with it.
Originally published in the White Plains Times, September 15, 2006.