This movie from Romania tracks Mr. Lazarescu (Ioan Fiscuteanu), a 62 year-old man, on his final hours before his imminent death. First, he is seen in his messy apartment with only languid cats keeping him company. He calls for an ambulance, complaining of headaches and stomach aches. Since the ambulance takes awhile to turn up, he interrupts his neighbors, asking for some pills. The next-door couple tries to help him, but lectures him on his drinking at the same time. Many minutes later, medical aid arrives in the form of a paramedic nurse (Luminita Gheorghiu). She briefly examines the old man and guesses the health problem lies in his colon. Mr. Lazarescu is immediately placed on an ambulance, on his way to one of the many hospitals he will visit before time runs out.

I groaned during the initial scenes of “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” Here we go again, I thought. I have blindly rented a critically acclaimed foreign film. It is shot with a hand-held camera and it endlessly follows a character around. And holy crap, it is 150 minutes long! To my surprise, I kept on watching, slowly getting caught up on a seemingly endless night. In addition to the mystery of Lazarescu’s mysterious ailment, there is a worthwhile look at the system of saving lives. Throughout the night, Lazarescu and his nurse meet a long line of doctors, hospital staffers, and emergency technicians – all realistically portrayed by a huge cast. The movie takes place in a credible world – very far from “Grey’s Anatomy,” my sad, poor, and limited view of the medical field. The doctors do not sleep with each other; they do not have superfluous dramas. These doctors are sleep-deprived, reek with ego, and perhaps find little joy left in their profession. The movie poster describes the film as comedy, which I honestly don’t get it. I hardly laughed at all. (It must be a European thing. They have their own metric system of humor). To me, “The Death of Lazarescu” is a riveting drama, an unflinching look at humans, both caring and indifferent, dealing with frailty and death.

Grade: A-

Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, Dana Dogaru, Florin Zamfirescu, Clara Voda, and Adrian Titieni
Screenplay by
Cristi Puiu
Razvan Radulescu
Directed by
Cristi Puiu
Rated R for for language and brief nudity