Saturday, January 20, 2007


THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU ("Moartea domnului Lazarescu," 2005, Romania, written and directed by Cristi Puiu)
It's a problem of mortality.

Dante Remus Lazarescu lives alone with his cats. He drinks more than he should, more than he admits. When it comes time to die, he is shunted from hospital to hospital by an endless series of health professionals – all of them brusque and exhausted, some of them concerned about this old man and his pain, others concerned more for their status in the professional pecking order or their legal liability.

Filmed with a hand-held camera and never a moment of melodrama in a succession of dreary apartments, ambulances and hospital rooms, the film is unrelenting in its stark realism. Yet this is in subtle tension with a layer of quite intentional (if sometimes ironic) mythic and Christian symbols – the director calls them signs – that suggest this Dante is descending into a kind of hell, a Lazarus who will die alone, waiting in vain for someone to bring life.

At two hours and forty minutes, it's a harrowing journey, as we stand by, helpless witnesses to the breakdown of Mr Lazarescu's body and mind. Harrowing, but humanizing: this fading old man can do little to earn our affection, yet his pain, his weakness, his fleeting moments of dignity stir us to compassion. People travel across continents to spend time with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, simply to be with the poor and lonely as they die, and often those people come away tranformed. This film offers us a similar opportunity.

THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU is a memento mori, a reminder of death, like the skulls medieval scholars kept close at hand to remember their small and mortal place in the grand order of things. G.K. Chesterton wrote that there must be priests to remind us that one day we will die. Writer-director Cristi Puiu is such a priest, believing – in the face of all the human imperfection and isolation he observes so unflinchingly – that "there is a God who created a perfect world," where "everything is related to everything." This sad, raw film is the sacrament he offers, a remembrance of suffering and death that has the power to quicken our divine humanity.

Available at Videomatica

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