Starring: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana. Rated R.
It is a typical night for Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu), a weary ambulance attendant in downtown Bucharest who delivers the
helpless to overcrowded hospitals where proper medical attention is little more than a lofty ideal. Patients are whisked from
doctor to doctor, treated to hasty (and often inaccurate) diagnoses, then dumped back on the streets to fend for themselves.
On this night, one of those patients is Dante Remus Lazarescu.
Mr. Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) is a 62-year-old retired engineer, a cantankerous drunk who spends his days caring for his
cats and brewing moonshine. He has a sister and a daughter, neither of whom play a significant role in his lonely life, and
his wife is long deceased. So when he complains of a splitting headache and an upset stomach, nobody much cares. The ambulance
service turns a blind eye, at first. His neighbors help him to a sofa, then quickly lose interest. They call the ambulance
again, and before long, Lazarescu is being rushed to the first of four hospitals that will deprive him of care and dignity.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is an unflinching look at the final hours of a man’s life, and though it is dry and
disturbingly matter-of-fact, it remains a harrowing indictment of a healthcare system that has lost its humanity. Director
Cristi Puiu wisely resists the urge to depict Lazarescu as anything more than he is – an old curmudgeon whose problems
are largely self-created and whose fate is assured from the get-go. But it is impossible not to sympathize with his plight
as he is bounced from one indifferent doctor to the next, his life slipping away almost as quickly as his consciousness.
Are these doctors really so callous? Or does their hectic profession require such cold-blooded detachment? Probably both.
Their hospitals are teeming with patients like Lazarescu, and there’s not enough time in a day to save them all. Mioara
understands this, but she is determined to find someone willing to treat her charge. As soon as she does, she makes a quick
exit, off to the next job.
Meanwhile, Lazarescu languishes on his gurney, already too far gone to be rescued. He will die there alone, without the slightest
fanfare. And perhaps that’s what makes his tale so gut-wrenching. It is told simply, with a decided lack of dramatic
flare. There are neither heroes nor villains. But there is a shocking disregard for the sanctity of human life that casts
a pall over the proceedings. That kind of disregard might be commonplace in the setting of a bustling hospital, but it is
repulsive to witness.