The Death of Mr Lazarescu

Starring: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu and Doru Ana
Tartan DVD
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3657
Certificate: 15
Available 23 October 2006

Mr Lazarescu is an elderly gentleman, who lives alone with his cats. When he starts to feel ill he calls an ambulance in the hope that a trip to hospital will sort him out. What starts as a simple belief soon turns to a dying nightmare as Mr Lazarescu is shunted from one hospital to another all the time getting weaker and closer to death...

The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Moartea Domnului Lazarescu, 2005) is the fourth film directed by Cristi Puiu and is a multi-award winning film from Romania. The film is touted as a black comedy and as such relies heavily on the skill of the subtitler. Although, I'm sure that a lot of the nuances have been lost in translation, the writing is skilful enough for you to get most of the subtleties of the increasingly absurd situation.

Be warned that this is a long film. With a running time of two and a half hours it would be reasonable to wonder if watching someone being shunted around an uncaring health system would not be akin to watching paint dry. Nothing could be further from the truth. The experience is more like watching a compelling slow motion car crash, with the audience placed in the position of helpless onlooker, unable to change the course of this personal tragedy. It is, at points, absurd, poignant, funny and tragic.

The story is very reminiscent of Kafka's The Trial. What we have is an individual trapped in an impersonal system. The doctors and nurses that he meets are, in the main, caring, but it is the system which kills Mr Lazarescu.

The actors were unknown to me, but that didn't stop their performances being riveting. Ion Fiscuteanu, who played the doomed Lazarescu carries most of the film, delivers a naturalistic performance which endears him to the audience - making his eventual demise even more tragic.

Audio options are limited to stereo and 5.1, with English subtitles; however both tracks do not do an injustice to the film. The extras, whilst interesting, are not overwhelming in number. However what it lacks in numbers it makes up in quality.

There is an interview with director Cristi Puiu, running at forty-five minutes, which is presented in English, and looks at how to make a film in Romania, where investment money is virtually non-existent. He speaks openly about his own health scare and its influence in his film making. Cristi comes over as a very genuine and engaging individual when he talks about the genesis of the film and his own musings on the art of film making. Not on the disc, but promised on the PR blurb, is the 2004 twelve minute short film, also by Puiu, Cigarettes and Coffee which itself won two film awards and was nominated for a further two. There is an interview with Dr Fred Berlin, not really sure why this was included except as a form of reassurance for Americans that they won't end up being treated like poor Mr Lazarescu. Actually, when he stops reassuring us that we wont suffer the same fate he has some interesting insights into the failings of health care systems. Of course to round things off you get the inevitable trailer.

If you didn't catch this in your local art house cinema the give yourself a treat and buy the DVD

Charles Packer

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