The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a slow film about a man fading quietly from this life in a death rite of bureaucratic and cultural ineptitude. But the carelessness that lends Lazarescu its excruciating pace creates a setting for a criticism of the Romanian health care system that transcends its own context.
Mr. Lazarescu has had a headache for four days, so he calls an ambulance for help. When they arrive and find yet another man wasted by alcoholism, they leave him to his neighbors to help him sleep it off.
To deal with his insistence that something may be wrong, they call an ambulance again, which leads to a slow journey through four different hospitals equally unconcerned about the plight of this incoherent man. He soils himself in their CT scanners. He garners the sarcasm of residents. And despite the opinion of a faithful ambulance attendant that he needs brain surgery to relieve a blood clot, his condition worsens in a series of hallway gurneys.
Much like Bresson’s A Man Escaped, the very title strips the film of any artificial suspense that would distract us from the fact that we are watching Mr. Lazarescu die. Even though Mr. Lazarescu has set the film in motion, we eventually watch his body simply pass through this series of indignities until the lights go off.
Puiu’s immersive cinema is not just an affectation that lends gravity to Lazarescu’s plight. It is a space in which we begin to feel the crushing weight of loss that seems an inherent risk of this health care system. There is no action-packed ER script to tie these loose ends together at the end. There is just a slow and inevitable indictment of the ease with which we watch the margins of society slip into government regulated systems of care.