Cristi Puiu


(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Cristi Puiu (Romania, 1967)

Moartea Domnului Lazarescu/ The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), which takes place over the course of one evening and is based on the true story of a man turned down at several Bucharest hospitals and eventually left in the street to die, is certainly an indictment of health care in Romania, but there is a broader, bigger message behind the humiliating odyssey of the protagonist. It is also an austere poem of the ordinary. The film is filmed in a documentary style (with shoulder-held camera), and at the beginning it looks like it is simply portraying the most ordinary of lives. It is only gradually that we understand what is going to happen. The allegory reveals itself slowly, through the progressive descent of the protagonist, named Dante, into the hell of a cold, bureaucratic hell, just like Dante's progressive descent into the hell of the Divine Comedy. Of course this is also a parable about the loss of human values in a less and less humane society: only the paramedic shows any compassion for the old drunkard, and even hers is quite feeble. For everybody else this modern Dante is simply a bureaucratic problem. Therefore she becomes the real heroine of the film, the last human being when the robots have taken over the world. Or she might be simply reflecting that soon she will be in the same conditions: she too is alone and she too is beginning to have health problems, which means that some day she'll have to start on her own Dantesque descent into the same hell.

Dante is a 63-year old widower who lives alone with his cats in a tiny apartment. He calls the hospital because he keeps throwing up and has a permanent headache. While he's waiting for the doctor, Dante calls his sister Eva. He is angry that she is spreading the rumour that his health is poor because he drinks too much. He also talks to Eva's husband Virgil and swears he's sending the money that he owes them. Dante walks downstairs to ask neighbors for a painkiller. They all think that his troubles come from alcohol. The neighbors help him return to his apartment and witness how he coughs up blood. The neighbors comment that it always takes forever for an ambulance to arrive. Another neighbor comes to visit, a young man who is always happy. The neighbors gossip that he has a daughter in Canada who has completely forgotten about her father.
It takes 38 minutes for the ambulance to come, which is also the first 38 minutes of the film. The woman in charge of the ambulance is a red-haired middle-age woman, not much younger than Dante. She asks Dante a few questions, and writes down that he had surgery 14 years earlier. She is cold but professional.
The film (still in real time) shows the paramedic, Mioara, smoking a cigarette and discussing Dante's life with the neighbor, Miki. Mioara suspects that Dante might have cancer. Dante asks Miki to call his sister Eva, and Eva promises to come and visit him at the hospital. The first intimation of the trouble ahead comes when Mioara tells the neighbors that it would be easier for Dante to be admitted to a hospital if he is accompanied. Miki and her husband Sandu don't feel like they owe their neighbor that much on a saturday night. Everybody helps Dante walk down the stairs to the ambulance. Dante is ashamed of lying on a stretcher and only sits on it. He complains with the driver, who asks him to stand back because his breath is terrible. Still in denial of his condition, he asks for a cigarette. At the hospital he is visited by a rude and overworked doctor, who thinks the problem is simply alcohol. The doctor lectures and insults him because, from his point of view, Dante is abusing the health-care system: doctors operate on him and he wrecks his body by drinking too much. When seriously injured victims of a traffic accident are taken in, the doctor has a good excuse to kick Dante out. He tells Mioara to take Dante to another hospital.
Dante is obviously getting sicker: he can't even stand up anymore. At the other hospital the situation is the same: the staff is busy with the victims of the traffic accident and only reluctantly allows the ambulance to unload Dante. Mioara is the only one who feels a bit of compassion for the old man and some degree of responsibility towards him. While they wait in the hallway, they see blood and they hear relatives weep. The female doctor who eventually visits an ever weaker Dante, who keeps complaining about a headache, realizes the gravity of his condition and calls a neurologist, who diagnoses a blood cot in the brain and requests a computed-tomography scan. Dante can't even speak normally anymore. And now even Mioara needs medicines: she too has her own health problems. We also learn a bit about Mioara when she meets a friend who is a nurse in that hospital. Mioara has a son who lives with a woman and had a son from her but they are not married, and Mioara cannot visit their daughter as often as she'd like because she doesn't get along with the mother. Meanwhile, Dante is fading away: he is always on a stretcher and hardly responds to what the doctors tell him. While they prepare him for the tomography, he wets himself. Mioara pulls his pants off and helps him to his pajama. The tomography proves that Dante has cancer and needs urgent neurosurgery. The doctor who reads the results of the tomography is skeptic that Dante has long to live anyway. Their surgery rooms are all full so they tell the good Mioara to take Dante to yet another hospital.
In this third hospital Mioara loses her patience. First a female doctor wants to reexamine Dante even though the tomography is clear. Then this doctor and a male doctor waste precious time discussing cellular phones. Then Mioara gets into an argument with the male doctor too, who snaps when told that Dante needs urgent surgery. In the middle of the night everybody is tired and on the edge. Finally the doctors ask Dante to sign the disclaimer for them to perform the dangerous operation. Dante, delirious, does not understand and refuses. The male doctor tells Mioara that he will not operate without a disclaimer unless the patient is comatose, in which case the disclaimer is not necessary. Therefore he suggests that Mioara drives Dante around for one hour until he becomes comatose and then bring him back. The alternative it to take him to another hospital where maybe the doctor will not require a disclaimer.
Mioara takes him to a fourth hospital. By the time they get there, the disclaimer is not necessary anymore because Dante has lost consciousness. At last, Mioara can go home. Other nurses take care of Dante: they wash him, shave his head, put a blanket on him. Dante hardly moves his head.

Most of what happens in the sprawling Aurora (2010) is silent and totally irrelevant. The protagonist is a taciturn insignificant man whose mummy-like face is the quintessential metaphor of boredom. As the film slowly progresses, we realize that his quiet hides a cryptic tangle of suppressed psychological frustrations. His motionless face is a lid on an inner maelstrom of tormented feelings. Whatever goes on in his psyche rarely surfaces as a facial expression. While it looks like he is not even thinking (besides not doing much), it turns out that his static silent life is a long premeditated crime, blending the mundane and the extraordinary in a permanent state of indifference.

Viorel is a factory worker in an industrial town with a girlfriend, Gina, who has a little daughter. Initially it looks like this is almost a documentary: ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary places. However, Viorel has just been fired from his job at the factory. He visits the office one last time to collect his belongings and asks a coworker some money that the other one has been slow in returning. Then he calls on another coworker, who has handcrafted parts of a gun for him and wants no money in return. Viorel never says a word more than what is necessary to interact with the others. His behavior is odd to say the least: he hides behind trucks in a parking lot to spy on a woman and her child, he stops and stares at a girl in a supermarket, we see in the rear mirror of his car that he is holding his head with his hands, etc. When he returns his apartment, where he lives alone, he patiently assembles a gun. He dials a number to phone somebody and then he mysteriously whistles twice in the phone.
Naked in the shower he repeatedly touches his genitals. During the shower he realizes that a leak from the flat upstairs has caused damage to his ceiling. He walks upstairs and talks to the woman who is home. the cause is her child, who was playing in the bathroom and forgot the water running.
He's still dressing when his mother comes to visit with her new man. Viorel's apartment is a mess: he says that he is redecorating but he has not even started. When they leave, he buys a fun from a gun store. Then he takes a cake from a cafe. At home the construction workers have finally started the renovation. The upstairs neighbors come to apologize for the stain in the bathroom. The phone rings and he doesn't pick it up. When everybody has left, he practices aiming the gun in the dark, as if shooting someone who is asleep in the bed. He drives to another building, hides in the underground parking garage and then shoots a couple that is getting into their car. He drives back to his girlfriend's apartment. The father of the child is there. The father and the child are getting ready to take a train. Gina cannot talk to him and tells him to come back later. He packs his belongings in three suitcases and drives to his mother's place, an apartment furnished in an older elegant style. He calls her Pusa, not mother. He gives the first speech of the film when he is alone with her new man: Viorel tells him that he doesn't like him and warns the man to stay away from his room. Viorel's father is dead and Viorel insinuates that this new boyfriend may be after the house. The man is left speechless by Viorel's hostility.
Viorel drives back to his lousy apartment, stopping at the train station for a few minutes. The next destination is the plant. Now it is late enough that nobody is around. He stares at it from a distance. Apparently he spends the night there because he is still there when the sun rises. He hides behind the trucks when someone walks by. He stays there until a family shows up. He spies them briefly still hiding behind a truck. Then he runs back to his car and drives to yet another place. This time it's his ex-wife's place. The girls (his girls) are gone, but he has come to pay the three months he owes her. He stares while she is preparing the meal. She is now married to another man, Dan, and callously tells him that the girls don't miss their father. He follows her upstairs with a knife and kills her: we don't see the act and we don't hear any sound. He quietly walks back to the car to pick up the gun. He aims it at her repeatedly and finally shoots. It makes no sense, as she is already dead. Then he turns on the television set and waits, sitting on the couch. When his wife's husband enters the house, Viorel shoots him too.
Now it is morning and he heads to a clothing store where his friend Andreea used to work. The store is still closed but he insists that he needs to talk to this friend of his. When the ladies open the door to tell him that she quit a few weeks earlier, he makes a scene, accusing them of lying and of hiding her. Next, he heads to the school looking for one of his girls, the elder one. He rudely interrupts a rehearsal that is going on and takes his daughter away. They cannot get into Pusa's apartment because she's not home and she locked the door. Viorel asks a neighbor to take care of the girl and she reluctantly accept. Viorel and the girl walk in while the members of the family (three adult men, a teenage boy and a teenage girl) walk around the apartment, indifferent to them (a long scene whose purpose seems to be just to test the director's skills).
Viorel walks to a little park and eats something. Then he calmly walks into a police station and makes a full confession. The victims were all connected to his wife (the couple were her parents-in-law). He sounds likes a rambling idiot and the police officers simply listen and write down what he is saying showing little or no surprise.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )