One of the most acclaimed films of 2006 is THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU. It appears on 40 Top 10 lists and scored an 84% on Metacritic. It played on as many as 5 screens between April and September, taking in just over 80 thousand dollars, and is generating Zero Oscar buzz.

It’s not hard to see why the film is so under the radar. The plot follows cranky old Mr. Lazarescu as he is passed around from hospital to hospital all night long. Doctors keep offering different diagnosis and treatments while he grows increasingly sicker. The cinematic style is hand-held realism, the running time is nearly 2 1/2 hours and it’s subtitled from Romanian. Do you want butter on your popcorn?
I understand that some film heads like this kind of movie. I’ll tell you flat out, this is not my cup of tea. This isn’t even my choice of beverage. I like flash and style and pace, cool visuals and well-done effects. It seems every year you come across an acclaimed picture that feels like somebody threw up on a plate and everyone rushed to call it art. Needless to say, Lazarescu’s death was not going to come soon enough for me.

The film started much as I had expected, mundane. Events take place in sort of real time – about 6 hours pass from beginning to end – so there’s plenty of time for trivial details.

Somewhere along the way, and long before the ambulance arrives, a strange thing happened. I realized I was…interested. Intrigued even. The style started working for me, and I felt like a witness to unexplored insight into how a person’s health can rapidly deteriorate.

The length and the real-time structure works, and as the film goes on, it becomes vital to the experience. With each doctor and each ambulance ride, you see that Lazarescu’s condition is becoming more serious. The doctors are all meeting him for the first time, but we’ve walked the mile in his shoes and it creates great empathy.

A lot of critics have tried to see the film as a black comedy about our inadequate medical system. Sort of in the vein of BRAZIL, where you can’t be cured without the proper paperwork. There’s an element of that here, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy. The story plays out very real, and the doctors are not made into easy villains, although their occasional arrogance and general behavior may anger you.
Which brings me to Lazarescu himself. He’s not just an everyman caught in the gears of the system. He’s grouchy, and he has a history of drinking, which causes a lot of problems throughout the night. I liked the somewhat testy personality, and it makes the back half very powerful. We watch the illness weaken the man so that he goes from temperamental bulldog to helpless hamster.
Another great touch is the female paramedic who stays with Lazarescu through most of the evening. She’s the only one who notices Lazarescu downward spiral, changing her from impersonal medical aide to fierce supporter. As Lazarescu becomes less able to speak coherently, the paramedic champions his cause, often enduring much verbal abuse for not being a real doctor.
Someone once asked Richard Roeper how many films he sees a year. His response was “All of them.” There are many films critics have to watch even though there isn’t a chance in hell the film will get a positive review. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU is the flip side of that coin. If not for critics, the film would be completely ignored. I’m not an art-house snob, but this is one of the top films of 2006.


Post a Comment

<< Home