Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu by Branden King

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 95 Spring 2006
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Ion Fiscuteanu and Luminita Gheorghiu in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Courtesy of Tartan Films.

Cinema didn’t start with stories. It was hijacked by them. The journey from Lumière to Griffith was over before it began. And while there has always been (and continues to be) a ragtag army of transcendentally art-damaged insurgents operating at the medium’s fringes, there hasn’t been much progress—in any popular sense—in the battle to free the movies from the totalitarian constraints of narrative continuity.

Don’t get me wrong, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu tells a story—or does it? Almost as soon as the film begins, we realize that we really are going to observe the final few hours in the life of Dante Remus Lazarescu—a charming if weathered older resident of contemporary Bucharest—who’s got a pain in his head, a pain in his belly, and the misfortune of living in this time of such acute and institutionalized interpersonal alienation. As he’s shuttled from overworked hospital to hospital over the course of the film’s single night, we see ourselves not only in him, but in every neighbor, doctor, nurse, and orderly who have their own problems and bureaucratic issues to deal with. Sorry, dude. I’d help if I could. (And I could, if I really wanted to).

The movie is great in any number of ways, but director Cristi Puiu’s real stroke of genius was to eject the plot into the title. In so doing, he frees his film up to do what cinema does (and has always done) best: provide a textured atmosphere in which to observe, record, and mirror ourselves. We leave such an experience not just entertained, but fed. Which is not the same as unraveling the thriller’s mysterious riddle or losing ourselves in the comedy’s off-color jokes.

Yes, Lazarescu ultimately passes. But Puiu’s film raises him from the dead—every time it’s screened. Cinema is dead. Long live cinema. Let it be born again.

Douglas Crimp’s Dance Dance Film Essays by Rosalyn Deutsche
Black and white photograph of dancer Nicholas Strafaccia participating in Trisha Brown’s Spiral. In a large warehouse with several columns and a ladder in the background, Strafaccia wears loose white clothing and is attached to a harness connecting to him to a cord. The cord has spiraled around the column and he hangs perpendicular to the column, parallel to the ground beneath him.

At some point in the late ’70s, when Douglas Crimp and I were art history doctoral students at the Graduate Center, CUNY, he invited me to the ballet.

Life Before Death: John Bruce and Pawel Wojtasik Interviewed by Nicholas Elliott
End Of Life Sarah Grossman

The filmmakers take an unexpected approach to documenting people in the final stage of life.

Dying Is All I Think About by Alissa Nutting

I once fell in love with a cannibal on the subway.

Originally published in

BOMB 95, Spring 2006

Interviews Dana Schutz, Harrell Fletcher, Tacita Dean and Jeffrey Eugenides, Frederic Tuten and Bernard Henri-Lévy, Lynne Tillman and Paula Fox, Judd Ne’eman and Janet Burstein, Charles Atlas, and Marsha Norman and Adam Rapp.

Read the issue
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