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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a 2005 Romanian dark comedy film by director Cristi Puiu
Cristi Puiu
Cristi Puiu is a Romanian film director and screenwriter.Puiu's first interest in art was painting and in 1992, he was admitted as a student at the Painting Department of Ecole Superieure d'Arts Visuels in Geneva. After the first year he switched to film studies at the same school and graduated in...

. In the film an old man (Ioan Fiscuteanu) is carried by an ambulance from hospital to hospital all night long, as doctors keep refusing to treat him and send him away.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu enjoyed immediate critical acclaim, both in film festivals, where it won numerous awards, and after wider release, receiving enthusiastic reviews. However, the film did poorly in international box office. The film is planned to be the first in a series by Puiu called Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest.

Plot


Dante Remus Lăzărescu (Ioan Fiscuteanu), a cranky retired engineer, lives alone with his three cats in a Bucharest apartment. In the grip of extreme pain, Lăzărescu calls for an ambulance, but once it becomes clear that no ambulance is coming, he asks for his neighbors' help. Not having the medicine Lăzărescu wants, and not wanting to worsen his condition by giving him the wrong medication, the neighbors give him some pills for his nausea. In the hallway, talking with his neighbor, we discover that Lăzărescu is a heavy drinker. His neighbor then helps Lăzărescu back to his apartment and lays him down on his bed. After Lăzărescu vomits blood strings, the neighbors decide to call an ambulance. When the ambulance finally arrives, the nurse, Mioara (Luminiţa Gheorghiu
Luminita Gheorghiu
Luminiţa Gheorghiu is an actress at Teatrul Bulandra in Bucharest, Romania one of the most respected theater actresses in East Central Europe. She has also appeared in a number of films, mostly in Romanian, but also in French....

) dispels the idea that Lăzărescu's ulcer surgery over a decade before is the culprit for this pain. While performing a patient history, we learn that Lăzărescu's drink of choice is a strong, homemade liquor called Mastropol. The nurse suspects he has colon cancer, and, after informing his sister who lives in a different city that the condition could be serious and she should visit Lăzărescu in the hospital, the nurse decides to get him to a hospital. His sister makes arrangements to come the following day; his wife had died eight years earlier, and his only child, a daughter, lives in Toronto.
The film follows Lăzărescu's journey through the night, as he is carried from one hospital to the next. At the first three hospitals, the doctors, after much delay, reluctantly agree to examine Lăzărescu. Then, although finding that he is gravely ill and needs emergency surgery, keep refusing to hospitalize him and send him away. Meanwhile, his health deteriorates rapidly, his speech is reduced to babbling and he slowly loses consciousness. The reasons for neglecting him range from the fact that the hospitals are jammed with injured passengers from a bus accident to the doctors being only humans who are tired, bored, or simply do not feel like taking care of a smelly old drunkard. During the night, his only advocate is the paramedic, who stubbornly stays by him and tries to get him hospitalized and treated, while passively accepting verbal abuse from the doctors who look down on her.

Finally, at the fourth hospital, the doctors accept Lăzărescu for an emergency operation to remove a blood clot in his brain, so that his incurable liver neoplasm can kill him, as one of the doctors in the film cynically comments.

Production


According to Cristi Puiu
Cristi Puiu
Cristi Puiu is a Romanian film director and screenwriter.Puiu's first interest in art was painting and in 1992, he was admitted as a student at the Painting Department of Ecole Superieure d'Arts Visuels in Geneva. After the first year he switched to film studies at the same school and graduated in...

, the initial impetus for the film came out of his public conflict with the National Council of Cinematography (CNC), a Romanian public institution which is the main provider of financing for filmmaking in Romania. Both in 2001 and 2003, Cristi Puiu, sustained by other young Romanian film directors (such as Nae Caranfil
Nae Caranfil
Nae Caranfil is a Romanian film director and screenwriter.-Career:Nae Caranfil is the son of important Romanian film historian and critic Tudor Caranfil...

 and Cristian Mungiu) accused CNC of directing financing towards the members of its Advising Council, led by Sergiu Nicolaescu
Sergiu Nicolaescu
Sergiu Florin Nicolaescu is a Romanian film director, actor and politician. He is best known for his historical films, such as Mihai Viteazul , Dacii , Razboiul Independenţei , as well as for his series of...

, and their protégés. As a reaction to the long fight with CNC, in 2003 Puiu wrote in a few weeks the synopsis for a six film cycle he called Six stories from the outskirts of Bucharest (including The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu). He initially planned them as low budget film
Low budget film
A low-budget film is a motion picture shot with little or no funding from a major film studio or private investor. Many Independent films are made on low budgets but films made on the mainstream circuit with unexperienced or unknown filmmakers can also have low budgets. Many young or first time...

s, trying to prove that Romanian directors can make films without aid from the CNC.

The medical framework in which the story of The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu unfolds grew out of a two year period (between 2001 and 2003) Cristi Puiu spent suffering of hypochondria
Hypochondria
Hypochondriasis or hypochondria refers to excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness. This debilitating condition is the result of an inaccurate perception of the body’s condition despite the absence of an actual medication condition...

. Although only suffering from stress
Stress (medicine)
Stress is a term in psychology and biology, borrowed from physics and engineering and first used in the biological context in the 1930s, which has in more recent decades become commonly used in popular parlance...

 and a common form of colitis
Colitis
In medicine, colitis refers to an inflammation of the colon and is often used to describe an inflammation of the large intestine .Colitides may be acute and self-limited or chronic, i.e...

, Puiu became convinced that he had a terminal disease. The resulting fear of dying made him obsessively collect information on diseases and medication, as well as giving him direct experience with the medical system. All this information then naturally formed the basis for setting his next movie in a medical background.

Another inspiration for the subject of the film was the actual 1997 case of Constantin Nica, a 52 year old man who, after being sent away from several hospitals, was left in the street by the paramedics and died.

After finishing the synopsis for the six films in Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest
Bucharest
Bucharest is the capital municipality, cultural, industrial, and financial centre of Romania. It is the largest city in Romania, located in the southeast of the country, at , and lies on the banks of the Dâmbovița River....

, Cristi Puiu showed them to Răzvan Rădulescu, a writer and screenwriter who also collaborated with Puiu on writing Stuff and Dough (2001) and Lucian Pintilie
Lucian Pintilie
-Filmography:* Duminică la ora şase * Reconstituirea * Salonul numărul 6 * De ce trag clopotele, Mitică? - see also the "Portrayals and tributes" section at Mitică* Balanţa * O vară de neuitat * Prea târziu...

's Niki and Flo (2003). They started researching The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu by going to various doctors and hospitals, then completed the screenplay. Puiu and Rădulescu participated with the film in the 2004 Script Contest organised by the CNC. However, the CNC refused financing for The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu, ignoring Puiu's previous success (e.g., he had won the Golden Bear Award for his short film Cigarettes and Coffee the same year). Puiu made an appeal to Răzvan Theodorescu, the Minister of Culture at the time, who approved it immediately, overruling the CNC decision.

The actual filming was accomplished over 39 nights, in November-December 2004. Because the film was finished late in the year, the crew worked very hard to make it in time for 2005 Cannes Film Festival
2005 Cannes Film Festival
The 2005 Cannes Film Festival started on May 11 and ran until May 22. Twenty movies from 13 countries were selected to compete. The awards were announced on May 21...

. The film was completed on an overall budget of €350,000. To produce this film, Cristi Puiu started his own production company, Mandragora, together with his wife and Alexandru Munteanu, the executive producer of The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu. All marketing decisions were left to his partners in the production company, Puiu focusing on the artistic and technical issues.

Reception



Box office


The Death of Mr. Lazarescu did not fare well in international boxoffice. The film was released in the US on 26 April 2006 by Tartan Films
Tartan Films
Palisades Tartan is a US and UK film distribution company, founded by US-based Palisades Media Group to take over the film library of Tartan Films after it folded in Summer 2008.-History:...

 and it played for 22 weeks, until 28 September. It enjoyed a limited distribution, playing in only five theatres simultaneously at its widest release. The film grossed $80,301 in US and an additional $117,046 in Argentina, Mexico and the UK.

In its home country, Romania, the film was released earlier, on 22 September 2005. Trying to attract the public to the cinema, the distributor advertised the film emphasizing the comedy aspect. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was a boxoffice success relative to the domestic market with 28,535 spectators before the end of the year. By the number of spectators it was the most successful Romanian film of 2005 and the 6th most successful Romanian film in 2001-2005.

The film brought Ion Fiscuteanu worldwide acclaim and proved to be his swan song. He died of cancer in 2007.

Festivals and Awards


The film was selected in numerous international festival and received more than 20 awards, among which:
  • 2005 Cannes Film Festival
    2005 Cannes Film Festival
    The 2005 Cannes Film Festival started on May 11 and ran until May 22. Twenty movies from 13 countries were selected to compete. The awards were announced on May 21...

     - Un Certain Regard Award
  • 2005 Transilvania International Film Festival
    Transilvania International Film Festival
    The Transilvania International Film Festival is a film festival held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania and established in 2001 by Romanian Film Promotion...

     (Cluj-Napoca
    Cluj-Napoca
    Cluj-Napoca , commonly known as Cluj, is the fourth most populous city in Romania and the seat of Cluj County in the northwestern part of the country. Geographically, it is roughly equidistant from Bucharest , Budapest and Belgrade...

    ) - Audience Award
  • 2005 Chicago International Film Festival - Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize
  • 2005 Reykjavik International Film Festival - Discovery of the Year Award
  • 2005 Copenhagen International Film Festival
    Copenhagen International Film Festival
    Copenhagen International Film Festival is a film festival held in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was first held in 2003, and is held annually. The main award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival is the Golden Swan, which will be awarded for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best...

     - Grand Prix du Jury
  • 2005 Motovun Film Festival
    Motovun Film Festival
    Motovun Film Festival is an annual film festival established in 1999 and held in Motovun, Croatia. It usually takes place over 5–6 days in late July or early August...

     - Propeller of Motovun for Best Film
  • 2006 Los Angeles Film Critics Association
    Los Angeles Film Critics Association
    The Los Angeles Film Critics Association was founded in 1975. Its main purpose is to present yearly awards to members of the film industry who have excelled in their fields. These awards are presented each January...

     Awards - Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Luminiţa Gheorghiu
    Luminita Gheorghiu
    Luminiţa Gheorghiu is an actress at Teatrul Bulandra in Bucharest, Romania one of the most respected theater actresses in East Central Europe. She has also appeared in a number of films, mostly in Romanian, but also in French....


It also received nominations for Best Director and Best Screenwriter at the 2005 European Film Awards, and for Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards
Independent Spirit Awards
The Independent Spirit Awards , founded in 1984, are awards dedicated to independent filmmakers. Winners were typically presented with acrylic glass pyramids containing suspended shoestrings representing the paltry budgets of independent films. In 1986, the event was renamed the Independent Spirit...

.

Film critics


After its 2006 US release, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu rose quickly to critical acclaim, receiving enthusiastic reviews. Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes is a website devoted to reviews, information, and news of films—widely known as a film review aggregator. Its name derives from the cliché of audiences throwing tomatoes and other vegetables at a poor stage performance...

, which gathers reviews from a large number of professional film critics, gives the film a 93% 'fresh' rating. Moreover, in 2007 it appeared on more than 10 "Top Ten films of 2006" lists compiled by professional critics, reaching the first place in J. Hoberman
J. Hoberman
James Lewis Hoberman , also known as J. Hoberman, is an American film critic. He is currently the senior film critic for The Village Voice, a post he has held since 1988.-Education:...

's list in the "Village Voice" and Sheri Linden's list in the Hollywood Reporter.

Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

 and David Denby
David Denby (film critic)
David Denby is an American journalist, best known as a film critic for The New Yorker magazine.-Background and education:Denby grew up in New York City. He received a B.A...

 praised the film for its authenticity and the matter-of-fact approach which lets the story draw its audience deeply inside, while J. Hoberman called it "the great discovery of the last Cannes Film Festival and, in several ways, the most remarkable new movie to open in New York this spring". The Washington Post
The Washington Post
The Washington Post is Washington, D.C.'s largest newspaper and its oldest still-existing paper, founded in 1877. Located in the capital of the United States, The Post has a particular emphasis on national politics. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia editions are printed for daily circulation...

's Philip Kennicott called the film "a tour de force of cinéma vérité
Cinéma vérité
Cinéma vérité is a style of documentary filmmaking, combining naturalistic techniques with stylized cinematic devices of editing and camerawork, staged set-ups, and the use of the camera to provoke subjects. It is also known for taking a provocative stance toward its topics.There are subtle yet...

", Stephen Holden
Stephen Holden
Stephen Holden is an American writer, music critic, film critic, and poet.Holden earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Yale University in 1963...

 in the New York Times called it "a thorny masterpiece" and Philip French
Philip French
Philip French is a British film critic and former radio producer.French, the son of an insurance salesman, was educated at the direct grant Bristol Grammar School, read Law at Oxford University. and post graduate study in Journalism at Indiana University, Bloomington on a scholarship.He has been...

 described it as "one of the most harrowing and wholly convincing movies I've seen for several years".

Many critics, among which J. Hoberman and Jay Weissberg, also remarked the black comedy
Black comedy
A black comedy, or dark comedy, is a comic work that employs black humor or gallows humor. The definition of black humor is problematic; it has been argued that it corresponds to the earlier concept of gallows humor; and that, as humor has been defined since Freud as a comedic act that anesthetizes...

 aspect of the film. Michael Phillips wrote in the Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, and the flagship publication of the Tribune Company. Formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper" , it remains the most read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region and is...

 that the film is "a black comedy, among the blackest", while Peter Bradshaw
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Bradshaw is a British writer and film critic. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he was President of Footlights.Bradshaw is a film critic for The Guardian...

 called it a "blacker-than-black, deader-than-deadpan comedy" and said that, given the subject, "it seems extraordinary to claim that this film is funny but it is".

Some reviewers criticised the film for its excessive length. Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter said that "at two hours and 34 minutes, we, seemingly, also endure his agony", while Kyle Smith
Kyle Smith
Kyle Smith is an American critic, novelist and essayist. He is a staff film critic for the New York Post. His film reviewing style has been called "an exercise in hilarious hostility" by Entertainment Weekly....

 in the New York Post
New York Post
The New York Post is the 13th-oldest newspaper published in the United States and is generally acknowledged as the oldest to have been published continuously as a daily, although – as is the case with most other papers – its publication has been periodically interrupted by labor actions...

 wrote that "It's supposed to be about a Kafkaesque experience. Instead, it is a Kafkaesque experience". Other critics noted the length of the film without criticism: Roger Ebert said that "it is a long night and a long film, but not a slow one" while Philip Kennicott said "it's long, but it's also very real and worth every minute".