They say the British have a peculiar sense of humor. [Or humour, rather.]
I am beginning to wonder whether Romania has its own brand of comedy which has yet to be fully appreciated by non-Romanians.
That to which I refer is a bit of writing on the Tartan Video box which encases this film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.
The line in question reads, “THE MOST ACCLAIMED COMEDY [sic] OF THE YEAR”.
Think of the saddest film you’ve ever seen. Dying Young? Schindler’s List?
Ok. Now, tack on the above. [the most acclaimed comedy of the year]
I’m beginning to wonder if someone at Tartan Films has their head screwed on backwards.
But let’s be fair: Tartan Films released one of the most important films of the century so far (12:08 East of Bucharest).
Whatever the case may be, let me be clear that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is (in my book) by no means a comedy.
When I first saw this film it struck me as that which I still regard it: a sad, sad film.
However, I must point out that this mini-masterpiece from director Cristi Puiu has aged extremely well (unlike the lead character).
The reason this picture is so good is really the immense contribution of Ioan Fiscuteanu and Luminița Gheorghiu.
The late Mr. Fiscuteanu (God rest his soul) gives one of the finest performances in the history of cinema as the titular Dante Remus Lazarescu. The symbolism of the names should be noted. Rings of hell. Ineffective medical systems at the state level. Heartless bureaucracy. Song of the South. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder. And finally, Jesus wept. Or Jesu swept. Arise, Lazarus.
The smell… Ugh. Yeah…
This film packs a punch. It is realism. If you had a hard day at the office, don’t watch this. Hard day at the coal mine? Not recommended viewing.
But if you want to see the golden nugget at the center of humanity’s inextinguishable heart, then watch as Luminița Gheorghiu goes beyond the call of duty as nurse Mioara. She is a paramedic with gall bladder problems. She and the driver of the ambulance which carts around Mr. Lazarescu make “less than nothing” (to quote the subtitles).
Yes. You will see the saddest shit imaginable. You will see an acting tour de force by Ioan Fiscuteanu as what? An ordinary man. Age 63. Headache. Stomach ache. Something is wrong.
And. You will see the real eyes of compassion. Not too much. Not too little. Luminița Gheorghiu. The nurse who respectfully disagrees. The nurse who takes insults all night long. Just to save one man. Lazarus.
She. Has to go smoke a cigarette in the kitchen. The paramedic. In Russia, every part of the plane is the smoking section. That was the quote from the inimitable Genghis Blues. And so. Romania. We are not given a year. A left-running TV offhandedly mentions Timișoara. Is it the revolution?
What is the ambulance delay? An hour response time. In Bucharest! Pre-Revolution or post-Revolution?
We don’t know. I don’t know.
Maybe it is left vague on purpose.
In closing, this is a very (very) important film. It’s like a slap of cold water in the face. It ain’t pleasant. This isn’t a fun movie.
But it is wholly worth seeing. Lead actor Fiscuteanu would be dead within two years. But you know what? He did it. He succeeded. This is a timeless testament. Line up Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman…all of them together (at this time) are shit compared to Fiscuteanu’s performance in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Only Hoffman has the chops to challenge. Dustin, it would have to be even better than Rain Man. Ready thyself if you want to compete with Ioan Fiscuteanu. It’s gonna take every pitiful cell in your body. You can do it. It might do you in.