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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

A Long Nightís Journey Into Death

It is a typical night for Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu), a weary ambulance attendant in downtown Bucharest who delivers the helpless to overcrowded hospitals where proper medical attention is little more than a lofty ideal. Patients are whisked from doctor to doctor, treated to hasty (and often inaccurate) diagnoses and then dumped back on the streets to fend for themselves. On this night, one of those patients is Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Mr. Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) is a 62-year-old retired engineer and cantankerous drunk who spends his days caring for his cats and brewing moonshine. He has a sister and a daughter, neither of whom play a significant role in his lonely life, and his wife is long deceased. So when he complains of a splitting headache and an upset stomach, nobody much cares. The ambulance service turns a blind eye, at first. His neighbors help him to a sofa then quickly lose interest. They call the ambulance again, and before long, Lazarescu is being rushed to the first of four hospitals that will deprive him of care and dignity.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is an unflinching look at the final hours of a manís life, and though it is dry and disturbingly matter-of-fact, it remains a harrowing indictment of a healthcare system that has lost its humanity. Director Cristi Puiu wisely resists the urge to depict Lazarescu as anything more than he is -- an old curmudgeon whose problems are largely self-created and whose fate is assured from the get-go. But it is impossible not to sympathize with his plight as he is bounced from one indifferent doctor to the next, his life slipping away almost as quickly as his consciousness.

Are these doctors really so callous? Or does their hectic profession require such cold-blooded detachment? Probably both. Their hospitals are teeming with patients like Lazarescu, and thereís not enough time in a day to save them all. Mioara understands this, but she is determined to find someone willing to treat her charge. As soon as she does, she makes a quick exit, off to the next job.

Meanwhile, Lazarescu languishes on his gurney, already too far gone to be rescued. He will die there alone, without the slightest fanfare. And perhaps thatís what makes his tale so gut-wrenching. It is told simply, with a decided lack of dramatic flare. There are neither heroes nor villains. But there is a shocking disregard for the sanctity of human life that casts a pall over the proceedings. That kind of disregard might be commonplace in the setting of a bustling hospital, but it is repulsive to witness.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars