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  Death of Mr Lazarescu, The Ticket To Heaven
Year: 2005
Director: Cristi Puiu
Stars: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, Dana Dogaru, Florin Zamfirescu, Clara Voda, Adrian Titieni, Mihai Bratila, Mimi Branescu, Rodica Lazar, Alina Berzunteanu, Milena Cioaba, Monica Dean
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lonely 62-year-old widower Mr Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) has spent the day drinking as usual, even though for the past four days he has been feeling unwell with headaches and vomiting. Now, around nine o'clock at night, he decides the safest thing to do would be to telephone for an amublance, and he calls the operator to arrange one. While he waits, he talks to his cats, has another drink and swallows painkillers, but there's no sign of the medical team so he goes to the apartment opposite his in the block and asks his neighbours if they have any stronger painkillers than the ones he's been taking. The man and his wife don't, but can see something is wrong with Mr Lazarescu so call for the ambulance themselves and take him to lie down on his sofa in his sitting room. As they wait, the television news tells them that there has been a major bus crash with dozens of casualties tonight - not a good time to be going to the hospital, then...

Death comes to us all, and while most of us would wish to peacefully slip away in our sleep, the reality may well be more like the situation depicted in The Death of Mr Lazarescu, or Moartea Domnului Lazarescu as it was known in its native Romania. Filmed in a deceptively mundane, ordinary fashion, the film is essentially the story of an older man's decline over the space of one night and how, as the title suggests, there's really nothing that can be done for him - or more realistically, nothing that will be done for him. It could be any over-stressed hospital in Europe, although perhaps not a private one, it just so happens to take place in Bucharest, and the events are depressing to anyone who has a flicker of recognition for them.

Written by the director Cristi Puiu with Razvan Radulescu, it ws the first in a proposed six film series depicting various types of love all set in Bucharest; this one was based around the concept of love for your fellow man, which some of the characters show and some of the characters, including doctors unfortunately, do not. It's a long, slow moving film and feels almost intrusive in its realism which is enhanced by its handheld photography and lengthy takes, along with a noticeable lack of closeups, almost as if, on first glance, Puiu was as being as clinical in his assessment of his title character as the majority of the medical staff. The film is around a third of the way through before Mr Lazarescu is even in an ambulance, and it's a two and a half hour experience that can leave you drained by its close.

After being looked after by his kindly neighbours, Mr Lazarescu is tended to by a paramedic, Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) who turns out to take the most interest in his case as the night draws on, striking a needed note of humanity. She injects him with a stronger painkiller and after hearing he has been vomiting blood wonders if he has bowel cancer, so off to hospital they go, with the old man growing more and more confused as he tires and the effects of the medication and his failing health take their toll. With the casualties from the traffic accident rolling in the hospitals are up to the eyes in it, and most doctors are not impressed to see a patient whose symptoms are entirely self induced due to his drinking. While you can understand their point, you also feel sorry for Mr Lazarescu who has obviously turned to the bottle for company, not having any other option to alleviate his loneliness. Mioara carts him around from hospital to hospital, and it all feels genuine to a documentary degree, with the pressure of despair never far away; it's a well made film, but most of us would rather not think about the consequences it implies.

[Tartan's Region 2 DVD features an interview with the director and a doctor's opinion, along with a trailer.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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