Eternal night

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Although the advertising for Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu makes every attempt to convince the potential viewer that this bleak and affecting film is a madcap laugh-fest, even going so far as to call it “the most acclaimed comedy of the year,” one shouldn’t be fooled. There are moments of acrid humor interspersed throughout its leisurely two-and-a-half-hour running time, but the film is starker and heavier than its marketing campaign would suggest.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu opens in the shabby Bucharest flat of its titular doomed hero, a 62-year-old widower who lives alone with his cats. Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) takes a couple of drinks and starts complaining of pains in his head and stomach. He calls for an ambulance, which begins a fruitless all-night search for capable and sympathetic medical care.

Lazarescu gets turned away from one emergency room after another, the victim of egotistical doctors, limited medical services, hospital turf wars and his own disagreeable nature. The film earns extra points for making its hero a filthy, pushy drunk instead of an angelic, obviously sympathetic old man.

As the night winds on, and Lazarescu’s condition deteriorates into incoherence, the viewer longs for the dying man to at least receive a little tenderness, only to be rebuffed—Lazarescu finds indignity around every corner of the medical bureaucracy.

In an interview included on the disc, Puiu claims that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is merely the first in a proposed sextet of films about life in the Bucharest suburbs. While this initial entry may not be the modern classic that some critics have described, it does point toward good things to come—Puiu has a humanity worthy of Renoir and a Fassbinder-esque ability to find the universe in a few moments of mundane behavior.