The Romanian Patient

CANNES, FRANCE—Longer on comebacks than discoveries, Cannes 2005 nevertheless struck gold with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, the second feature by Cristi Puiu, a 38-year-old Romanian ex-painter. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu—awarded the prize of the "Un Certain Regard" section—is an explicit ode to mortality, not without a certain grim humor. An old drunk awakes with a headache—or is it stomach pain? After a day of self-medication, he calls 911. The ambulance takes over 30 minutes (film time) to arrive, and from the limbo of his squalid flat, Lazarescu enters hell—transported from hospital to hospital for the movie's remaining two hours, variously diagnosed, browbeaten, and ignored by a harried succession of brilliantly acted doctors and nurses. His characters constantly talking and his camera in near-continual motion, Puiu simulates the institutional texture of a Frederick Wiseman vérité. The inspiration, he says, was Eric Rohmer and ER: "When you watch the American TV series, there's movement in every direction, the choreography of the characters is amazing. . . . In my country, doctors and everyone else live in slow motion, as if they were on Valium, and still had 500 years to live." And that's even more remarkable.

 
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