(2005)4Nathan SouthernStylistically, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu -- Romanian director Cristi Puiu's document of one man's bleak trek through the inadequacies and weaknesses of the Bucharest medical system -- is an unmitigated triumph. Puiu ingeniously shoots the film with handheld cinematography and low-budget stock and lighting that give it a raw documentary feel, and employs a temporally and spatially unified narrative that force-feeds the audience the graphic physiological and emotional turmoil of the central character, Lazarescu Dante Remus. Puiu is thus able to use these devices to generate automatic empathy and emotional attachment on a tonal level. And such are all towering strengths. That we actually become emotionally invested in Remus is a testament to the wondrous skill with which Puiu crafted the film. On the opposite side of the coin, however, the picture provides strikingly little joy and relief; it becomes unbearably depressing to watch Lazarescu get shuttled from one medical facility to another as he pukes, moans, and ultimately descends into complete dementia -- all to the chauvinistic insensitivity of the medical personnel around him. Puiu probably believed that his occasional doses of black comedy would compensate for the film's disturbing material (much as the visceral, graphic discussion of bodily functions and the gallows humor offset each other in the literature of Jan Wolkers). But whereas Wolkers is clever and inventive, and never jokes at the expense of his characters, Puiu's attempts at humor -- many generated by an insensitive, bearded Romanian doctor -- feel alternately cruel and mean. (That is, unless you find it funny to see a physician lean over into the face of a bloodied patient with a severe cranial injury and scream out a query about whether his head still aches, and then pound violently on the stomach of another patient whose liver is ready to burst.) All told, many assets of Lazarescu are magnificent, but by their very nature, they make this a much easier picture to admire than to actually enjoy.