“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” – A.J. Hakari

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu paints an often painful portrait of what happens when those we entrust to take care of our loved ones do anything but that. In this natural-feeling and textured tragedy, director/co-writer Cristi Puiu brings to the viewer’s attention the case of one Dante Remus Lazarescu, played by Ion Fiscuteanu, a man who lives alone in a dingy Bucharest apartment, with only his cats keeping him company.


After suffering from a four-day headache and some nasty stomach pains, Mr. Lazarescu finally calls for the ambulance. And he waits…and waits…and waits…and, well, you get the picture. By the time the ambulance arrives, Mr. Lazarescu has already entered the first stages of a slow physical and mental decline, one that continues to worsen before the very eyes of a paramedic named Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu). Unfortunately, Mioara seems to be the only person who realizes the poor guy’s state, as over the course of the night, Mr. Lazarescu gets traded off to four different hospitals, encountering doctors who take one sniff and detect booze on his breath, then dismiss him as a drunk. They don’t even bother to diagnose him properly. There’s also the problem of overbooking due to a bus accident in the area. As Mr. Lazarescu’s condition gets worse, others pay little attention, too wrapped up in their own little worlds to give notice to just another poor soul slowly drifting away.


The Death of Mr. Lazarescu sounds like quite the emotionally-heavy film, and oftentimes it is. But the movie doesn’t generate its drama from cliched, time-tested situations or phony crises. The film produces tension from its “you are there” approach to storytelling. It’s almost as if filmmakers have slapped a camera in your hand and asked you to tape this poor guy as the Romanian medical system gives him the runaround. You can’t accuse The Death of Mr. Lazarescu of any lack of realism. Although Puiu’s pacing requires some definite patience, he more than makes up for a handful of sluggish moments by giving the viewer a feeling of being there in the moment. This film is an example of true human tragedy, of a life slowly being lost and having nary a soul around to care enough to pay the slightest bit of attention. Played in a fine, low-key style by Fiscuteanu, Mr. Lazarescu himself almost sinks into the background, serving as a catalyst to bring out the real meat of the story: the emotions elicited when people more concerned with themselves are confronted with a tragedy in process.


However, the minimalistic style of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu does have its drawbacks. This journey is a long one, at a length of about two and a half hours, filled with countless moments spent rolling through hospital corridors and taking extended ambulance rides. Of course, it’s all done in the name of prolonging Mr. Lazarescu’s odyssey and emphasizing the ironic plot, but after we get the picture, we want the story to start winding down. And, at least a tiny glimmer of hope would have helped to even out the plot and perhaps give the story more of an arc. Even the film’s “nicest” character, Mioara, has flaws that inexplicably pop up and disappear at a moment’s notice, so she’s not an ideal antidote for the harsh realism permeating most of the film.


The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (which, despite the apparent finality of the title, ends on a pretty ambiguous note) is being advertised as “the most acclaimed comedy of the year,” which is too bad, because this film is more “funny ironic” than “funny ha-ha.” People who see that quote and rent the movie expecting it to be the laugh-out-loud riot of the year may be disappointed. But although the story does indeed involve the slow and painful act of dying, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu carries a profound message — that of how precious life is.


Rating: ★★★☆


-A.J. Hakari

One Response to ““The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” – A.J. Hakari”

  1. Drew Says:

    I’d been meaning to see this for the longest time but I’ve always been put off by the pretty hefty length…this review will hopefully put a boot in my ass to see it though. Plan on watching a buttload of movies 2nd semester at school. Keep up the good work.


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