The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a film designed to make the audience cringe. It starts off with a drunken man complaining of pains and calling an ambulance, only to have it not arrive for hours and instead going to his neighbors for help, only to have them tell him it’s because of his alcoholism. Once the ambulance arrives, he will be taken to four separate hospitals, though the same line of reasoning is stated throughout. The first doctor completely denies him help because he assumes he’s just drunk, and it takes Mr. Lazarescu’s health spiraling completely out of control for doctors to even look at him, though that doesn’t cause them to actually do anything to help.
Mr. Lazarescu is a tale of a health care system gone completely wrong, where a man requiring immediate attention is turned away either because hospitals get too crowded incredibly easily or because laws require his written approval even though his mind has descended into an incomprehensible jumble. The doctor that brings up the latter issue even makes a foul joke to the ambulance assistant to drive around until he goes comatose and come back. The lack of immediate help is seen as a joke by the medical personnel, who seem to not comprehend that it takes seven hours of driving for Mr. Lazarescu to find a hospital that will help him.
However, the film was designed as a very dark comedy, and though many of the funny moments will be lost to those that don’t know Romanian, there are still moments of bitter irony throughout. Though we spend most of the movie watching how unfairly Mr. Lazarescu is treated, no one ever seems to bring up his liver issues, which are terminal and will soon kill him. Even if he is saved from his brain issue, he’s going to die of something completely different. The only reason he even seems to be having the main issue is because of the ambulance’s late arrival. In a way, this is a story of a man looking for help in the hospital system due to the hospital system’s failure, a vicious circle that makes it easy to see why his death is mentioned in the title.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a long work, standing at two and a half hours, but it makes that length work. It is almost as if we’re experiencing the man’s troubles with him. It is a long, slow journey, but could a film of this type work with a shorter length? Could we really understand the tension of the ambulance assistant as she spends her entire night looking for a single proper hospital to take care of this man? This is a rare film that earns its excessive length.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is simply a strong film exposing a rather universal worry in our world. It is the ultimate medical nightmare. The man’s full name is Dante Remus Lazarescu, and few first names have ever been as fitting, for he truly seems to be travelling the circles of hell.