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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romanian title Moartea domnului Lăzărescu) is a Romanianmarker comedy/drama made in 2005 by director Cristi Puiu. In the film an old man (Ioan Fiscuteanu) is carried by an ambulance from hospital to hospital all night long, as doctors keep refusing to treat him and send him away.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu enjoyed immediate critical acclaim, both in film festivals, where it won numerous awards, and after wider release, receiving enthusiastic reviews. However, the film did poorly in international box office. The film is planned to be the first in a series by Puiu called Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest.

Plot

Dante Remus Lăzărescu (Ion Fiscuteanu), a cranky retired engineer, lives alone with his three cats in a Bucharest apartment. In the grip of extreme pain, Lăzărescu calls for an ambulance, but once it becomes clear that no ambulance is coming, he asks for his neighbors' help. Not having the medicine Lăzărescu wants, and not wanting to worsen his condition by giving him the wrong medication, the neighbors give him some pills for his nausea. In the hallway, talking with his neighbor, we discover that Lăzărescu is a heavy drinker. His neighbor then helps Lăzărescu back to his apartment and lays him down on his bed. After Lăzărescu vomits blood strings, the neighbors decide to call an ambulance. When the ambulance finally arrives, the nurse, Mioara (Luminiţa Gheorghiu) dispels the idea that Lăzărescu's ulcer surgery over a decade before is the culprit for this pain. While performing a patient history, we learn that Lăzărescu's drink of choice is a strong, homemade liquor called Mastropol. The nurse suspects he has colon cancer, and, after informing his sister who lives in a different city that the condition could be serious and she should visit Lăzărescu in the hopital, the nurse decides to get him to a hospital. His sister makes arrangements to come the following day; his wife had died eight years earlier, and his only child, a daughter, lives in Toronto.

Lăzarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) and Mioara (Luminiţa Gheorghiu)
The film follows Lăzărescu's journey through the night, as he is carried from one hospital to the next. At the first three hospitals, the doctors, after much delay, reluctantly accept to examine Lăzărescu. Then, although finding that he is gravely ill and needs emergency surgery, keep refusing to hospitalize him and send him away. Meanwhile, his health deteriorates rapidly, his speech is reduced to babbling and he slowly loses consciousness. The reasons for neglecting him range from the fact that the hospitals are jammed with injured passengers from a bus accident to the doctors being only humans who are tired, bored, or simply do not feel like taking care of a smelly old drunkard. During the night, his only advocate is the nurse, who stubbornly stays by him and tries to get him hospitalized and treated, while passively accepting verbal abuse from the doctors who look down on her.

Finally, at the fourth hospital, the doctors accept Lăzărescu for an emergency operation to remove a blood clot in his brain, so that his incurable liver neoplasm can kill him, as one of the doctors in the film cynically comments.

Production

According to Cristi Puiu, the initial impetus for the film came out of his public conflict with the National Council of Cinematography (CNC), a Romanian public institution which is the main provider of financing for filmmaking in Romania. Both in 2001 and 2003, Cristi Puiu, sustained by other young Romanian film directors (such as Nae Caranfil and Cristian Mungiu) accused CNC of directing financing towards the members of its Advising Council, led by Sergiu Nicolaescu, and their protégés. As a reaction to the long fight with CNC, in 2003 Puiu wrote in a few weeks the synopsis for a six film cycle he called Six stories from the outskirts of Bucharest (including The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu). He initially planned them as low budget films, trying to prove that Romanian directors can make films without aid from the CNC.

The medical framework in which the story of The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu unfolds grew out of a two year period (between 2001 and 2003) Cristi Puiu spent suffering of hypochondria. Although only suffering from stress and a common form of colitis, Puiu became convinced that he has a terminal disease. The resulting fear of dying made him obsessively collect information on diseases and medication, as well as giving him direct experience with the medical system. All this information then naturally formed the basis for setting his next movie in a medical background.

Another inspiration for the subject of the film was the actual 1997 case of Constantin Nica, a 52 year old man who, after being sent away from several hospitals, was left in the street by the paramedics and died.

After finishing the synopsis for the six films in Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharestmarker, Cristi Puiu showed them to Răzvan Rădulescu, a writer and screenwriter who also collaborated with Puiu on writing Stuff and Dough (2001) and Lucian Pintilie's Niki and Flo (2003). They started researching The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu by going to various doctors and hospitals, then completed the screenplay. Puiu and Rădulescu participated with the film in the 2004 Script Contest organised by the CNC. However, the CNC refused financing for The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu, ignoring Puiu's previous success (e.g., he had won the Golden Bear Award for his short film Cigarettes and Coffee the same year). Puiu made an appeal to Răzvan Theodorescu, the Minister of Culture at the time, who approved it immediately, overruling the CNC decision.

The actual filming was accomplished over 39 nights, in November-December 2004. Because the film was finished late in the year, the crew worked very hard to make it in time for Cannes film festivalmarker. The film was completed on an overall budget of €350,000. To produce this film, Cristi Puiu started his own production company, Mandragora, together with his wife and Alexandru Munteanu, the executive producer of The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu. All marketing decisions were left to his partners in the production company, Puiu focusing on the artistic and technical issues.

Reception

The Romanian poster emphasizes the comedy side

Box office

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu did not fare well in international boxoffice. The film was released in the US on 26 April, 2006 by Tartan Films and it played for 22 weeks, until 28 September. It enjoyed a limited distribution, playing in only five theatres simultaneously at its widest release. The film grossed $80,301 in US and an additional $117,046 in Argentina, Mexico and the UK.

In its home country, Romania, the film was released earlier, on 22 September 2005. Trying to attract the public to the cinema, the distributor advertised the film emphasizing the comedy aspect. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was a boxoffice success relative to the domestic market with 28,535 spectators before the end of the year. By the number of spectators it was the most successful Romanian film of 2005 and the 6th most successful Romanian film in 2001-2005.

The film brought Ion Fiscuteanu worldwide acclaim and proved to be his swan song. He died of cancer in 2007.

Festivals and Awards

The film was selected in numerous international festival and received more than 20 awards, among which: It also received nominations for Best Director and Best Screenwriter at the 2005 European Film Awards, and for Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards.

Film critics

After its 2006 US release, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu rose quickly to critical acclaim, receiving enthusiastic reviews. Rotten Tomatoes, which gathers reviews from a large number of professional film critics, gives the film a 93% 'fresh' rating. Moreover, in 2007 it appeared on more than 10 "Top Ten films of 2006" lists compiled by professional critics, reaching the first place in J. Hoberman's list in the "Village Voice" and Sheri Linden's list in the Hollywood Reporter.

Roger Ebert and David Denby praised the film for its authenticity and the matter-of-fact approach which lets the story draw its audience deeply inside, while J. Hoberman called it "the great discovery of the last Cannes Film Festival and, in several ways, the most remarkable new movie to open in New York this spring". The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott called the film "a tour de force of cinéma vérité", Stephen Holden in the New York Times called it "a thorny masterpiece" and Philip French considers it "one of the most harrowing and wholly convincing movies I've seen for several years".

Many critics, among which J. Hoberman and Jay Weissberg, also remarked the black comedy aspect of the film. Michael Phillips writes in the Chicago Tribune that the film is "a black comedy, among the blackest", while Peter Bradshaw calls it a "blacker-than-black, deader-than-deadpan comedy" and remarks that, given the subject, "it seems extraordinary to claim that this film is funny but it is". Leslie & Naruna Kaplan deny that the film is a caricature, they emphasise the problem of modern bureaucracy: There is an analogy between the Body (of Lazarescu) and Society. ... The society is grave like a package, which is transported on a biere and will move less and less. ... Bureaucracy, we see it in the details, is shown in the same way as the body of Dante Lazarescu.

Some critics panned the film for its excessive length. Thus, Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter remarks that "at two hours and 34 minutes, we, seemingly, also endure his agony", while Kyle Smith in the New York Post writes that "It's supposed to be about a Kafkaesque experience. Instead, it is a Kafkaesque experience". Other critics also remark the length of the film, but don't consider it to be a problem: Roger Ebert finds that "it is a long night and a long film, but not a slow one" and Philip Kennicott notes that "it's long, but it's also very real and worth every minute".

See also



References

  1. Pe divanul Dilemei Vechi (On Dilema Veche's couch) - interview with Cristi Puiu in Dilema Veche 118, 28 April 2006 [1]
  2. Presedintele CNC, Decebal Mitulescu - total de acord cu cererile tinerilor furiosi (Decebal Mitulescu, chairman of CNC - totally agrees with demands by the angered youngsters) - Adevărul, April 2003 [2]
  3. Nu vreau să fac filme la kilogram (I don't want to make movies by the kilogram) - interview with film director Cristian Mungiu by Marius Chivu, 22 nr. 687, 6 - 12 mai 2003 [3]
  4. Fantomele, dupa ultimul bal din enclava filmica (Phantoms, after the last ball in the film enclave by Valerian Sava, Observator cultural nr. 51, 16-22 Feb. 2006 [4]
  5. Am intrebat un doctor daca e grav si a zis „Da, bă, o să mori!" (I asked a doctor whether it is serious and he said "Yes, dude, you're going to die!") interview with Cristi Puiu by Brânduşa Armanca, Ziua, 1 Aug. 2005 [5]
  6. Ţară fara vinovaţi - Cazul Nica, dupa nouă ani (Country with no guilty people - The Nica case after nine years) by Mira Bălan, Jurnalul Naţional, 13 Apr. 2006 [6]
  7. Cristi Puiu: "The Romanian movie industry is losing ground" interview with Cristi Puiu by Otilia Haraga, Bucharest Daily News 16 Dec. 2005
  8. Data according to Boxoffice Mojo
  9. The National Cinema Center, Yearbook Cinema 2005, p. 68
  10. Rotten Tomatoes computes a 93% 'fresh' rating for The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (May 21 2007) [7]
  11. Metacritic's "Film Critic Top Ten Lists - 2006 Critics' Picks"
  12. Roger Ebert, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", Chicago Sun-Times, May 12 2006
  13. David Denby, “United 93” and “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”, The New Yorker, May 1 2006
  14. J. Hoberman, "The Art of Dying - A Romanian unknown's ode to mortality is the most remarkable film of the year so far", The Village Voice, April 25 2006
  15. Philip Kennicott, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", The Washington Post, July 14 2006
  16. Stephen Holden, "'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu' Tells a Modern Hospital Tale", New York Times, April 26 2006
  17. Philip French, "The Death of Mr Lazarescu", The Observer, July 16 2006
  18. Jay Weissberg, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", Variety, May 17 2005
  19. Michael Phillips, Movie review: "‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'", Chicago Tribune
  20. Peter Bradshaw, "The Death of Mr Lazarescu", The Guardian, July 14 2006
  21. transl. from French. See: Leslie Kaplan & Naruna Kaplan da Macedo: La Mort de Monsieur Lazarescu in: Trafic. Revue de Cinema ISBN 2-84682-168-2 Nr. 60, Hiver (Nov.) 2006, pp. 71-74. Paris: P.O.L., here: p. 73
  22. Duane Byrge, "The Death of Mister Lazarescu (Moartea Domnului Lazarescu)", Hollywood Reporter, May 18 2005
  23. Kyle Smith, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", New York Post, April 26 2006


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