Posted by: kfugrip | March 3, 2008

Movie Review: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Upon seeing and loving 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days I immediately moved a couple of Romanian films to top positions in my Netflix queue. I did not watch the movie that this post is about through Netflix, as it was on Sundance the other night, but I like Netflix a lot. I remember when I was in grad. school and Netflix was in the toddler stage. I got a membership and when I first received my three movies I watched them on the same day. I was so excited to see some of these movies, on DVD and at the correct aspect ratio, that I couldn’t wait to watch them. I would routinely watch the movies on the same day of arrival, thus maximizing my dollar-to-movie ratio. That was then.

Now I will sit on a movie for months and months before I watch it. As a result I have reduced my membership to the bare minimum and would cancel it except I have over 3000 movies rated and that feels like a lot of work (a.k.a. time wasted) to just flush down the toilet of discontinued membership.

What is this phenomenon? Why, in a year when I watch over 104 movies do I watch so few Netflix? What does this have to do with the movie in this post? Very little but growing up in the home video age, and making an effort to turn myself into a filmmaker in the Netflix/DVD age should register better results than it has thus far from a 30 year old Production Assistant. Hmmm. More to ponder. Now on to the review.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, directed by Cristi Puiu, is one of the early examples of the new Romanian cinema that heretofore existed as a cinema, invisible to American audiences. Breaking ground as the winner of Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2005, and collecting a slew of other awards, doesn’t mean that the film is good but it’s a strong indication that there is something worth seeing. Isn’t that what winning a festival is about? It’s a large neon finger pointing to the film and saying “look at me, I may be worth a damn” (but maybe in other languages).

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu concerns the title character, a working class, possible alcoholic who is sick and alone. He seeks the aid of first, his neighbors and then the state as he spirals further and further towards his death. He is bounced by doctors, for various reasons, from hospital to hospital before he is finally admitted, with only the EMT to care for him. It’s a bold statement about the bureaucracy’s failure to help people.

What I liked: In reading a little about the film the word kafkaesque has often popped up and I find it to be an apt description. The character of Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) struggling against the machine and deteriorating until death is dark subject matter but compelling as well. I couldn’t stop watching as this man, who I knew little about but cared for, was shuttled around the city and suburbs of Bucharest hoping to have his life saved. The performances and the style were in perfect harmony and gave me a picture of a people that are very similar to what I see when I look our the window. I feel like the realism was heightened by Puiu’s unobtrusive, observational camera. Though much of the film, or the entire film, was hand-held it was more in the style of the Dardenne Brothers and less from the “shakey-cam” school, where I’m nauseated and attention is brought to the fact that the camera is on someone’s shoulder. Again, it’s a tool and should be approached like that instead of some filmmakers making their manifesto. Digression aside, after the opening five minutes I couldn’t tell you much about the camera or its movements because it became invisible, melding with the story and characters. I look forward to seeing more of Puiu’s work.

What I didn’t like: It’s difficult to describe why I shave a star off my rating of this film. Sometimes a film is good but it isn’t as good as similar films I liked. I feel like the film’s one failing was that it didn’t involve me enough with Lazarescu, or any of the characters, that the ending was moving. The film had a distance, a remove that prevented me from feeling the loss that Lazarescu’s death should have registered. I believe that this distance was intentional, that Puiu is skilled enough to get me closer to Lazarescu and to make the film a tear inducing affair but he creates distance to, perhaps, make us intellectualize the proceeding and see it as a social problem. I see this as a careful artistic choice but I think the film could have been stronger if it took an emotional stance. The fact that the film is described as a comedy is a product of this distance, I think. I haven’t read any interviews with Puiu, so I can’t comment on his intent other than to watch the film and discern it for myself by observing my reactions.

If this film is supposed to be a comedy, like the poster indicates, then it failed to illicit many laughs from me. I was more moved by the film than amused.

4 stars

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  1. Cool site,

    It’s good to see blogs with useful/entertaining content. I have a DVD website. Why not take a look some time?

    You can get lots of cheap region free films.

  2. This is a great review – because it makes me really want to see a film, that I wasn’t that interested in when first hearing about it. I did watch a little bit of this with you and it was pretty fascinating. Your comment about the handheld camera work is especially on point, because coming into the film when I did, I really didn’t even notice it.

  3. I’m looking forward to not seeing this movie, but seeing “Post #97”. ….You know what I mean.

  4. Don’t get too excited about “Post #97”. It’s alright but it takes me FOREVER to do one comic.

  5. If I had a dollar for every time you bitched about shakey cam…

  6. You would be a millionaire. I hate, hate, HATE shitty camerawork.

  7. I too struggle with Netflix. Netflix already allows us to be lazy. Mismanagement of Nextflix movies is off the chart of laziness. A new level of laziness. It might even be called Netflix Ennui.

    Netflix Ennui is also the name of my intergalactic starship.

  8. Heres a thought. What if you had a nickel for the number of times you heard the “if I had a (insert monetary value here) for (insert allusion to a frequently occuring event here). Wed go from shittin in a cell to shittin on a jet.

    Actually, dont think about that. Its too much to consider. I think my brain just collapsed on itself.

  9. New reviews, please.

  10. Nice smiley face. Hadnt noticed that until there werent any reviews. What happened to New Review Tuesday? An unused golden idea is merely another unused idea.

  11. I’ve got a backlog of eight movies. I’m in no mood to write about them. Sucks, but I’ll get some out by Friday.

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