Monday, September 19, 2005

the death of mr. lazarescu (puiu, 2005)

Had every reason (onscreen puking, shitty handheld, wince-inducing curmudgeon humor) to bolt from the joint in the first 15-25 mins. until I realized two things: (a) said minutes were actually going by at a fairly rapid clip and (b) the power of the movie was accumulating in ways that were simultaneously subsurface and took a good amount of pleasurable work to draw a bead on. Puiu's direction resembles the Dardennes'; although big Caveat, he doesn't have twins' balls-to-the-wall formal rigor. What he loses in discipline Puiu gains in giving a dozen or so actors the space and latitude to be amazing in multiple ways: presence, technical proficiency, interaction with other actors, and so on. And once the number of onscreen actors began to multiply, I began to dig Puiu's ER-on-Valium choreography in a big way.

Here is a list of the film's less-than-subtle aspects that were almost fully atoned-for, in my view, in case any of them raise red flags in your movie-preview calculus, dear reader: upbeat music in the opening and closing title-crawl, but no music in the movie, period, unless you count as music the bleak symphony of Mr. Lazarescu's fateful night journey and the friction between ER-sneakers and Bucharest linoleum; the un-un-un-subtle use of biblical/0ther-baggage-burdened names for characters (like Lazarus, Dante, Virgil, "Angel"); the use of the running (albeit coal-black) gag of Lazarescu's drinking, upon which everybody remarks caustically, from frame 1 to frame 220,000.

Still, this is not a film I am just letting go with a warning, it is a major work by a director I hope to have the opportunity to see in the future. Think Bresson's Balthazar except instead of a donkey it's a argumentative old sod who drinks to much and (unlike B), ultimately, reaps what he's sewn.

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