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With: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminta Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, Dana Dogaru, Serban Pavlu, Florin Zamfirescu, Clara Voda, Adrian Titieni, Mihai Bratila, Monica Barladeanu
Written by: Cristi Puiu, Razvan Radulescu
Directed by: Cristi Puiu
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief nudity
Language: Romanian with English subtitles
Running Time: 154
Date: 05/17/2005

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Inhospitable Hospital

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This two-and-half-hour Romanian drama may sound like a trial, but it's oddly, warmly captivating. (Some have even called it a comedy!) It has to do with the final hours in the life of the title character, one Dante Remus Lazarescu (a name for the ages). He's a craggy lump of a man -- beautifully played by Ion Fiscuteanu -- with once-giant, muscular arms now turned to so much jiggly flesh. This 63 year-old lives in a grungy apartment with three cats he dearly loves. One day he has a terrible headache and calls an ambulance. His neighbor -- a disgraced former doctor -- gives him some drugs while they wait. A friendly, middle-aged lady paramedic (Luminita Gheorghiu) shows up and takes him to a hospital. The nasty doctor chides poor Mr. Lazarescu for drinking and sends him away. Another hospital makes a diagnosis and sends him to a third. Another doctor, another diagnosis. Hours later, Mr. Lazarescu has noticeably deteriorated; he can barely speak or make sense of his words. A doctor whose name sounds like "Angel" finally agrees to do something, but is it too late? Romanian director Cristi Puiu establishes himself as a talent to watch with this, his third film. He uses a hand-held camera and very long takes, but manages to capture a specific rhythm and tone without drawing too much attention to himself. The film understands a certain late-night, agitated reality -- overcrowded, overworked, vaguely corrupt hospitals -- but manages to get away without preaching. With barely a rise in tone or a note of music, Puiu orchestrates a grand, emotional tour, using his incredibly mean doctors with a bedside manner like Darth Vader, as well as delicate, beautiful moments of tender, pure compassion. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu may be a tough sell, but it's well worth seeking out.

DVD Details: Tartan's DVD comes with several intriguing extras: a comparison with the health care system in the U.S., a video interview with the director, and liner notes excerpting stories from the New York Times and CinemaScope magazine.

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