Monday, May 01, 2006

Must See Movie: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

At my first viewing of ‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu’ (Moartea Domnului Lazarescu), Romanian actress Monica Barladeanu spoke on behalf of the documentary-like drama set in a poorly equipped Romanian hospital. Lazarescu director/co-writer Cristi Puiu refused to fly but the pretty brunette actress represented the film well in front of fall 2005 Toronto Film Festival audiences. Barladeanu’s charisma was one reason that audience members stayed for a post-screening question and answer session after the 154-minute film. More credit belongs to Puiu’s emotional drama, an artful mix of gritty realism and epic melodrama.
Lazarescu is an elderly loner who drinks his nights away in the company of his cats. He accepts his vomiting and headaches as collateral damage from the latest bender. The pain escalates and Lazarescu calls for an ambulance to his cramped apartment. In a better place, Lazarescu would be on the road to relief. But this is Bucharest and its crumbling health care industry is ill equipped to help the dying Lazarescu.
Luminta Gheorghiu brings an emotional boost as the concerned medic who accompanies Lazarescu on his death march but the film’s soul belongs to veteran actor Ion Fiscuteanu in the title role. Beneath his unshaven face and bulging belly, Fiscuteanu displays the battered spirit of a man unaware of his fading strength and the inability of the people around him to help. Fiscuteanu gives a natural, subtle performance. It’s everything the film needs.
Bucharest-native Cristi Puiu studied painting and his dedication to detail is evident in every scene. Puiu’s experience making short films and documentaries explains his knack for movie-made realism. Puiu has joked about the “Romanian slowness” responsible for the film’s epic length but every scene matters.
‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu’ is about everyday problems, told in real time, but it packs the punch of a grand epic.
A hundred times more emotional than any ‘E.R.’ TV show, ‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu’ is a medical drama worth sticking around to watch. It’s a discovery from a part of the world seldom portrayed in movies. It’s the best one can hope for from any trip to the art house.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival and opened in New York City on April 28. Tartan Films USA will release it in art house theaters across America later this spring.

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