Monday, January 01, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Cristi Puiu)

(Originally written for the Onion AV Club's end-of-2006 poll)

With a title like that, one does not go in expecting to have a good time, but while THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU is harrowing, it’s also essential viewing for anyone who takes world cinema seriously. Much of the credit for the film’s success can be attributed to Ion Fiscuteanu, who embodies the title character with a complete lack of guile, fearlessly venturing through the bowels of the Romanian health care system that, over the course of one night, will suck away his dignity and his humanity, leaving him naked, barely breathing, and waiting to die. Meanwhile, the system swirls around him, with hospitals sending him elsewhere, doctors taking him to task for his drinking and diet rather than dealing with the problem in front of them, and everyone trifling over paperwork and procedure, perhaps to cope with all the suffering. Director Cristi Puiu never allows his film to devolve into a wallow, leavening the story with sardonic humor borne out of exasperation and impotence in a way that hasn’t been done this well since Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL.

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