Let me quote the opening paragraph of the great critic (and champion of this film) J. Hoberman: If there’s a tougher sell than a Romanian movie by a hitherto unknown director, it’s a Romanian movie by an unknown director that takes two and half hours to tell the tale of a 62-year-old pensioner’s final trip to the hospital.
He’s right. Even I, a full-fledged Hoberman desciple, let this picture slip past when it played at Film Forum last year. When Hoberman named it his top movie of 2006 I grudgingly placed it in my Netflix queue. Is The Death of Mr. Lazarescu as unbearably depressing as it sounds. Strangely, no. It is far too focused to just be depressing. It is microscopic filming – a procedural, really, closer in content to a film like Le Samourai or (yes, I mean this) Airport than a weepie about a dying old man. The style is pure verite. You’ll never know who is right and who is wrong, you’ll never know precisely when or where the true injustices are occurring. But you will know, at the end, that the society on display is failing. A man is dying and he probably doesn’t have to. Either for surface reasons (just admit the fucking patient already!) or crueler reasons (would the widower drink so much if the neighbor just said “hello” once in a while?) The moral is simple: we must examine how our daily decisions, even the ones “at work”, effect the lives of others. Otherwise civilization breaks down. The other moral: don’t get sick in Romania. Hoberman’s full review is here.