The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) / Drama
Moartea domnului Lazarescu

MPAA Rated: R for language and nudity
Running Time: 153 min.

Cast: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, Dana Dogaru, Florin Zamfrescu, Clara Voda,
Director: Cristi Puiu
Screenplay: Cristi Puiu, Razvan Radulescu
Review published July 5, 2006

After so many years of writing up reviews, here's something I never thought I'd write:  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a brilliant movie that I absolutely refuse to recommend that anyone I know watch.  Well, at least I wouldn't recommend watching unless you know exactly what you're getting into.

It's a 2 1/2 hour long drama about a 62-year-old man that is ailing from a headache and a stomach condition he thinks are his ulcers.  An ambulance comes to pick him up, and for various reasons, he is shuttled from hospital to hospital, getting turned away from nearly every professional he sees, always diagnosed as someone that needs immediate care, only to get sent to someone else to get the treatment he might need to save his life. 

I wish I could tell you that there's more to the movie than that, but that pretty much sums it up, at least in terms of the story.

Credit writer-director Cristi Puiu for making one hell of a realistic, nearly real-time film about one man's experience with the Romanian health care establishment.  I suspect that this sort of thing happens all over the world in similar fashion, where bureaucracy, crowded hospitals, and haughty doctors begrudgingly offer medical care to people that desperately need it, then pass the buck to someone else because they'd rather not deal with the responsibility.

While the film was created with social commentary in mind, it is never very obvious, as it doesn't really paint any individual as a truly heinous person.  All of the health care professionals seem to take their jobs seriously.  Some of them are obviously cranky, having worked long hours.  Some resent the fact that Mr. Lazarescu has been damaging his own body with his drinking, clogging up hospital beds that are needed by people with real emergencies. 

The odd thing about the film is that it's being promoted as some sort of zany comedy (see the picture above for the Romanian poster).  The American poster proclaims this film as "the most acclaimed comedy of the year", followed by blurbs from critics that mention it has "biting humor" and "done with a Devil's sense of humor".  This is a serious movie!  It's not a wacky, laugh-your ass off comedy!  It is a depressing film!  They are tricking you to get you to see this -- if you go into this film expecting to laugh, you will be thoroughly confused, bored, and most likely HATE this movie!

Yes, there is a blackly comic element to the story that will almost make you laugh at times despite the tragedy of it, perhaps because we know it isn't real.  It's so tragic, and yet oddly comic, to see an ambulance take forever to get to a man's house and send only a small woman in her 50s to assist him into the ambulance.  It's funny that all of these doctors will be treating a man to brain surgery so that he can die soon after from his liver disease. Then we stop ourselves from laughing because we realize that, for many people like Mr. Lazarescu, the events are all-too real, happening to countless people every single day somewhere in the world. 

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a painstakingly researched and brilliantly acted film that scores high marks as a truly great achievement in making a drama that is important and true-to-life.  It isn't preachy or outwardly condemning, allowing us to make our own assessment of the foibles and follies of the medical industry, plus one hell of a stubborn patient that refuses to acknowledge his condition. 

While I admire how much effort went into making this film by everyone involved, I feel the need to reiterate that I absolutely cannot recommend this film blindly to just anyone.  I guess there are some movies that are intelligent and skillfully created enough to earn a great deal of respect, and still they are so difficult to sit through that I couldn't with any conscience tell a friend or family member that they should subject themselves to 2 1/2 hours of bleak, slow and depressing drama with no resolution, unless they absolutely knew that's what they were going to see.  For every person that finds the film fascinating, there are probably a dozen that would find it long, dull, and pointless, most likely shutting it off before the first hour has elapsed. 

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is perhaps the best film this year that I never want the displeasure of sitting through again.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo