April 28, 2006

"The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"

This Romanian film about a 62-year-old drunk's ambulance odyssey to four hospitals has to be just about the lowest budget film I've ever seen. It looks like it was filmed with a camcorder by an amateur -- when somebody starts speaking off-camera, the camera swings around and finds him a few words later. Being a European, the director of course explains that this was all part of his Theory. The press notes read:

Many shots in "Lazarescu" are taken with a shoulder-held camera. This gives the camera a subtle "human" presence that in part contradicts the otherwise infinite indifference. ... "My only directive to the cameraman was that we not move the camera too soon, because the camera movement shouldn't 'predict' the characters' lines or movement. Our camera goes after the real. The viewer, for their part, should be granted just enough space and distance from the film to be able to observe, and let their imaginations work."

Well, swell.

Of course, if the filmmaking shouldn't "predict," then why name the movie "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"? Doesn't that kind of give the end of the movie away?

Still, it's at least marginally watchable, if grueling. The auteur wants the film to be about the "indifference of the universe," but what it's really about is how when you go to the hospital, you need somebody healthy by your side to do battle for you.

It's being marketed as a comedy, but you'd have to be pretty odd to find it a barrel of laughs.

Mr. Lazarescu is a hard-drinking widower who has a bad headache and stomach ache. He calls an ambulance, which takes him to a hospital emergency room swamped with teenagers with head injuries from a major bus accident. The doctor views Lazarescu as what American ER doctors call a GOMER and tells him to Get Out of My Emergency Room. That's hardly surprising when a man stinking of drink shows up complaining of a headache and bellyache.

Fortunately, the ambulance nurse feels sorry for him and takes him to another hospital ER. There she meets a nurse she's friends with who gets him slipped into the busy CAT scan facility. They find out he has both terminal liver cancer and bleeding in the brain, which is immediately life-threatening. But their neurosurgery ward is full of bus accident victims. So, onto hospital #3, where the pompous doctors get mad at the ambulance nurse for telling them what operation Lazarescu needs and throw her and the rapidly fading patient out. On to hospital #4, where he is treated kindly but dies before he can have his head operated on.

Back in March I spent four hours sitting in an emergency room bleeding following minor surgery. At the time, I was pretty sore about the ER triage nurse putting me at the bottom of their priority list, but they turned out to be right -- by the time they got around to me, I had (what do you know!) stopped bleeding of my own accord.

So, Mr. Lazarescu's sorry tale seems quite realistic to me. Indeed, without the ambulance nurse's surprising doggedness, he wouldn't have come even close to surviving the night. So, if you have a loved one who needs to go to the hospital, don't let them go alone.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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