The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
|The Death of Mr. Lazarescu|
Cannes Film Festival poster
|Directed by||Cristi Puiu|
|Music by||Andreea Paduraru|
|Editing by||Dana Bunescu|
|Distributed by||Tartan USA|
|Running time||153 minutes|
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romanian: Moartea domnului Lăzărescu) is a 2005 Romanian dark comedy film by director Cristi Puiu. 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 at 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.
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) 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.
According to Cristi Puiu, 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 and Cristian Mungiu) accused CNC of directing financing towards the members of its Advising Council, led by Sergiu Nicolaescu, 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 films, 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. Although only suffering from stress and a common form of colitis, 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, 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'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. 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.
Romanian-American pop singer Margareta Paslaru had even consented the use of a couple of songs from her repertoire for both the respective opening and ending credits in the movie: "Cum e oare" (Telling It Like It Really Is) and "Chemarea marii" (The Waves of the Ocean).
After its 2006 US release, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu rose quickly to critical acclaim, receiving enthusiastic reviews. Rotten Tomatoes, 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's list in the "Village Voice" and Sheri Linden's list in the Hollywood Reporter.
Roger Ebert and David Denby 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's Philip Kennicott called the film "a tour de force of cinéma vérité", Stephen Holden in the New York Times called it "a thorny masterpiece" and Philip French 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 aspect of the film. Michael Phillips wrote in the Chicago Tribune that the film is "a black comedy, among the blackest", while Peter Bradshaw 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 in the New York Post 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".
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 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.
Even though the film brought Ion Fiscuteanu worldwide acclaim, unfortunately, it also proved to be his swan song. Sadly and ironically, like the title character he was playing, 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 – Un Certain Regard Award
- 2005 Transilvania International Film Festival (Cluj-Napoca) – Audience Award
- 2005 Chicago International Film Festival – Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize
- 2005 Reykjavík International Film Festival – Discovery of the Year Award
- 2005 Copenhagen International Film Festival – Grand Prix du Jury
- 2005 Motovun Film Festival – Propeller of Motovun for Best Film
- 2006 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Luminiţa Gheorghiu
- Pe divanul Dilemei Vechi (On Dilema Veche's couch) – interview with Cristi Puiu in Dilema Veche 118, 28 April 2006 
- Președintele CNC, Decebal Mitulescu – total de acord cu cererile tinerilor furioși (Decebal Mitulescu, chairman of CNC – totally agrees with demands by the angered youngsters) – Adevărul, April 2003 
- Nu vreau să fac filme la kilogram (I don't want to make movies by the kilogram) – interview with film director Cristian Mungiu by Marius Chivu, 22 nr. 687, 6–12 mai 2003 
- Fantomele, dupa ultimul bal din enclava filmica (Phantoms, after the last ball in the film enclave by Valerian Sava, Observator cultural nr. 51, 16–22 Feb. 2006 
- Am intrebat un doctor daca e grav si a zis „Da, bă, o să mori!" (I asked a doctor whether it is serious and he said "Yes, dude, you're going to die!") interview with Cristi Puiu by Brânduşa Armanca, Ziua, 1 Aug. 2005 
- Ţară fara vinovaţi – Cazul Nica, dupa nouă ani (Country with no guilty people – The Nica case after nine years) by Mira Bălan, Jurnalul Naţional, 13 Apr. 2006 
- Cristi Puiu: "The Romanian movie industry is losing ground" interview with Cristi Puiu by Otilia Haraga, Bucharest Daily News 16 Dec. 2005
- Rotten Tomatoes computes a 93% 'fresh' rating for The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (May 21, 2007) 
- Metacritic's "Film Critic Top Ten Lists – 2006 Critics' Picks"
- Roger Ebert, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", Chicago Sun-Times, May 12, 2006
- David Denby, “United 93” and “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”, The New Yorker, May 1, 2006
- J. Hoberman, "The Art of Dying – A Romanian unknown's ode to mortality is the most remarkable film of the year so far", The Village Voice, April 25, 2006
- Philip Kennicott, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", The Washington Post, July 14, 2006
- Stephen Holden, "'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu' Tells a Modern Hospital Tale", New York Times, April 26, 2006
- Philip French, "The Death of Mr Lazarescu", The Observer, July 16, 2006
- Jay Weissberg, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", Variety, May 17, 2005
- Michael Phillips, Movie review: "‘The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'", Chicago Tribune
- Peter Bradshaw, "The Death of Mr Lazarescu", The Guardian, July 14, 2006
- Duane Byrge, "The Death of Mister Lazarescu (Moartea Domnului Lazarescu)", Hollywood Reporter, May 18, 2005
- Kyle Smith, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", New York Post, April 26, 2006
- Data according to Boxoffice Mojo
- The National Cinema Center, Yearbook Cinema 2005, p. 68
- "Festival de Cannes: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-12-12.