Today's film was the last of the Romanian film festival, the sixth, the last one I could find at netflix, The Death of Mr Lazarescu. I'd seen it a few years ago, though wanted to see it again. It was good enough to see a second time. Mr Lazarescu has a pain, asks for an aspirin, then needs an ambulance to be carried to the hospital. He was fading fast. The ambulance medic I recognized from a role in another film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which I also saw the second time. She was mother of the girl's boyfriend. Good actress. Very different characters in the two roles. She accompanies Mr Lazarescu from hospital to hospital, doctor to doctor, in Bucharest the night of a bus wreck that killed twenty and left too many injured for the hospitals to handle. In a way, the film is a muckraking look at the health care system, hospitals, doctors, indifference, ego. The different doctors were characterized well as doctor types, arrogant with the nurses and medics, brilliant minds surrounded by go-fers; go fer this, go fer that. The Bucharest hospitals were technically equipped about like Sparta hospital. They can do quite a lot and the equipment they have is good, but it is spare due to budgets. Romania is not one of the prosperous countries and Alleghany is not a prosperous county.
The story was as much about the medic who carried Mr Lazarescu from hospital to the hospital through the night, taking an interest in his well-being, seeing his decline, wanted to translate his incoherent phrases, but doctors shut her down, talked down to her in such a way it took a woman of a powerful constitution to take it like she did and keep her own equilibrium like she did. She took it like a woman in a patriarchal society. Everybody pestered Lazarescu about his drinking while he was in such a state he couldn't understand what was being said to him, could not answer, couldn't sign a form giving permission to operate. Because he was unable to sign, the doctor sent him on to another hospital. It was Kafka's, The Castle, in the Bucharest healthcare system. It was not that the hospitals were dirty or inept. They were doing the best they could with what they had to work with. The attitudes of doctors and staff were busily dismissive like American hospitals. Mr Lazarescu was caught in an absurd circle that never ends until he died waiting for the operation that would not have brought him back. The film was in the Balkan Absurd tradition. All he wanted was an aspirin for a headache.
The first film in the series was Aurora. Three hours. In the first half, a man who seldom talks goes about his daily routine, walks to a gun store and buys a shotgun. He breaks it down into two parts and carries it in a sports bag. He carried it everywhere he went. He went to his in-law's house, killed his mother-in-law and father-in-law, drove to a parking garage and waited. A man and a woman were walking to a car and he shot them both. He drove away in his car like it's no big deal. The second half of the film is what he does after the incident. He checked his seven year old girl out of school and put her in with a neighbor to keep until her mother came home from work. He then went to the police station, gave them the bag with the gun, turned himself in, explained he had killed his in-laws and his ex-wife with her new man. Him walking into the police station was as much a surprise as when he shot his in-laws. Did not see it coming. He is last seen explaining to the detectives what he did, the details, places and times. Never a reference to why. The detective handed him a legal pad to write his confession on. The end. Presumably, what he wrote is the story that just ended. It was a film with zero action, except in the pivotal moment that divided the film into before and after, yet from first scene to last it held my attention. I followed him with constant curiosity, before and after. The story was no more than watching this man, plain enough to be Everyman, walking and driving through his day. Turns out, it was a day he'd been planning awhile. Another film I'd like to see a second time.
Two others, The Way I Spent The End Of The World, and Child's Pose showed the world of the the working people in one and the equivalent of the American upper middle-class in the other. Two very different worlds. A well-off woman with some local power had a privileged son who was a willful brat grown up into a twenty-something. Son killed a working class child drunk driving. Mom goes through the story pulling strings she's able, doing all she can to keep him out of trouble. It comes to a deeply moving end where a transforming experience works to the best for all concerned. A beautifully made film. The characters return to life as usual following an experience that changes everything. In The Way I Spent The End Of The World, the change was the fall of Ceausescu. This was something of a theme I saw run through the Romanian series, found each one to be a moment that stands out in a continuum that continues beyond the end of the story. In all of them I found a sense of a future after the end and a sense of the past before the beginning. This perspective in telling a story seems particularly Romanian to my limited experience, anyway in the way it is visioned. Everything goes on like usual, then a transforming change occurs and everyday life is back to usual, just different. The American film, The Squid and The Whale, comes to mind having the quality of a transforming experience occurring in a continuum of everyday life. Lazarescu dies, the continuum goes on.
constantin brancusi's endless column, targu-jiu, romania