Thursday, April 05, 2007

 

Health carelessness

By Edward Copeland
My main running gag throughout my many tours of duty through the hall of mirrors that is American medicine has always been, "Doctors have no incentive for making people well — there's no percentage in it." Now, imagine the health care industry in Romania, where there isn't even a profit motive to spur doctors into taking time and care with patients and to administer tests, necessary or unnecessary, and you'll get a good idea of the journey the title character takes in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.


Ion Fiscuteanu plays Lazarescu, a man a few months shy of his 63rd birthday who complains of a headache and stomach problems and who keeps vomiting blood. He lives alone in a grimy apartment with a multitude of cats before he wanders to his neighbors to complain of how he feels and they call an ambulance to check out the ailing man.

Everyone wants to blame his symptoms on booze, especially since he had an ulcer surgery several years before, but Lazarescu isn't the most articulate of men and just keeps insisting on his pain. Eventually, the ambulance arrives, led by a paramedic (Luminita Gheorghiu) who steers Lazarescu through a nightlong descent into indifference as he's shuffled from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, all pleading lack of resources, showing flat-out contempt or just not caring what happens to the man.

Directed by Cristi Puiu from a script he co-wrote with Razvan Radulescu, it takes awhile to get with the rhythm of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Somehow, it avoids being depressing and it's not a rabble-rousing indictment of the health care system. In fact, you could almost call its approach clinical. In many ways, it more closely resembles the tone of a documentary than than of a fictional narrative.

The performers seem so real that it feels as if you are just observing people more than watching actors. The film is long, but by the end you see the need for its length. To truly get across the horror of Lazarescu's final hours, you can't rush through it or you'll miss the quiet, mundane tragedy it depicts.


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