Academic journal article Film Criticism

"Lazarescu, Come Forth!": Cristi Puiu and the Miracle of Romanian Cinema

Academic journal article Film Criticism

"Lazarescu, Come Forth!": Cristi Puiu and the Miracle of Romanian Cinema

Article excerpt

   Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch 'entrate!
   Abandon, all hope ye who enter)
   --Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, "The Inferno"

   A la fin du spectacle tu vas mourir
   (At the end of the performance you are going to die)
   --Eugene Ionesco, Le roi se meurt (Exit the King)

Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu received Un certain regard at Cannes (2005), The Silver Orb Award (Alba Regia 2005), The Golden Tower (Palic 2005), The Grand Prix of the Jury at the International Copenhagen Film Festival (2005), Bayard d'Or for best film and best actress (Namur 2005), The London Critics Circle Film Award (Foreign Language Film of the Year, 2006), The Chicago International Film Festival Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize (2006), World Cinema Award, offered by BBC Four (2007). This impressive record is not singular; many of the directors belonging to the Romanian New Wave (1) have produced--often on low budget (Puiu's film costa mere 350,000 Euros) and in the absence of adequate infrastructure in the sequence of production, circulation and presentation--award-winning feature films that have impressed critics worldwide and that have been considered one of the most stimulating and promising developments in recent years in Eastern European national cinemas. (2)

According to Puiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (3) is part of a projected series entitled "Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest," inspired by Eric Rohmer's Six contes moraux (Six Moral Tales). They are conceived as love stories--the love between a man and a woman, love for one's children, love of success, love between friends, and carnal love. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, the first film of the series, is predicated on the ancient Biblical command "Love thy neighbor as thyself,, which is derived from the Hebrew verses: "But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:34) and continues to be an essential feature of Christianity. Puiu plays splendidly with the complexities of this commandment, which establishes the proper relation of human beings to one another, modeled on the relation of human beings to God. The very logic of this directive suggests that the love we should have for our neighbors is identical to the love God has for us--complete and perfect. Love for God equals love for humankind. But the ethos of neighborly love is certainly intricate and difficult in the story. This meticulous problematization is one of the virtues of Puiu's film and, as this essay argues, its force comes primarily from the exceptional mastery of the film's mise-en-scene.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is the story of a 62-year-old retired engineer, Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu), who lives with his three cats in a shabby, dirty apartment in Bucharest. On Saturday morning he wakes up with an unusually severe headache and acute stomach pain; in the evening, after hours of useless self-medication, he calls for an ambulance. While waiting for its arrival, Lazarescu drinks Mastropol, a strong homemade alcoholic drink, and calls his sister, who lives with her husband in Targu-Mures, a Transylvanian city relatively far from Bucharest. When it becomes evident that the ambulance is not coming, Lazarescu calls again and then asks for his neighbors' assistance. They give him some pills for nausea, help him back to his apartment, and lay him down on his bed.

Gradually his condition worsens, and soon he vomits blood. The ambulance finally arrives and Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu), the paramedic, performs an examination while inquiring into Lazarescu's medical history. He had had ulcer surgery more than ten years before and suffers from varicose veins on both legs. Suspecting colon cancer, a more serious condition than Lazarescu is prepared to accept, Mioara decides to take him to the emergency room. Before leaving for the hospital, she calls Lazarescu's sister and advises that she come and visit her brother as soon as possible. …

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