Christi Puiu

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Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


The story follows the final twelve or so hours in the life of a 62 year old widow, emblematically named Dante Remus Lazarescu, (Ioan Fiscuteanu). Suffering with stomach distress and a terrible headache (eventually diagnosed as a subdural hematoma and late stage liver cancer), he spends his last night being shuttled by ambulance, or rather by an ill-equipped van serving as ambulance, from hospital to hospital, unable to secure the emergency surgery that would save him. The hand-held camera and long uncut takes -some are six or more minutes- give the movie the feel of unfolding in real time. In places, it has the look of a documentary, and it has been compared to Frederick Wiseman's Hospital (1970).

Before the odyssey begins, we meet Mr. Lazarescu in the cramped, unkempt Bucharest apartment he shares with his three cats. Of his circumstances we learn that he is a retired engineer whose only daughter has emigrated to Toronto, and that despite having had ulcer surgery years earlier, Mr. Lazarescu drinks heavily. In his every encounter -with neighbors and with a string of doctors- he is reprimanded for his drinking, implicitly or explicitly blamed for his ill-health. From the television blaring in his apartment we hear news of a truck gone out of control that has rammed a tourist bus. Casualties from the accident are taxing hospital resources, which accounts in part for why this ill-smelling elderly man who appears to be drunk (but turns out to be having a cerebral bleed) is a low priority, although this doesn't account for the callousness with which he is treated by much of the medical staff.

The most significant relationship in the film is between Mr. Lazarescu and the ambulance nurse, Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) who shepherds him throughout the night. Almost everything we know about her is what one knows from watching someone at her job; in Puiu's hands, this vantage turns out to be richly informative. (Ms. Gheorghiu's body language speaks volumes.) Mioara and Mr. Lazarescu hardly speak to one another; they don't "open up" to one another or have a "meaningful moment," nothing to compare, for example, to the Popsicle scene between the nurse, Susie, and patient, Vivian Bearing, in Wit (see annotation). The power of the relationship in this film is in what is not overt, but what is palpable nonetheless -that Mioara's presence means very much to Mr. Lazarescu, and that doing her job includes letting him know that she is standing by him, that he is the priority, the only priority. Mioara staunchly meets the irascibility and chastisement of various physicians in her efforts to advocate for her patient as he is passed off from one hospital to the next.

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