Reel rhythym

Kyle Smith

Rhythm is impossible to describe. How a movie flows or a song bounces or a book reads cannot really be conveyed via proxy. Here are two examples of me failing to justify discussing rhythm:

In The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a highly-touted Romanian film finally playing in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., the rhythm is slow, methodical, and often painful, yet it’s impossible to imagine any other way of telling the preordained tragedy of the titular Lazarescu. The film opens with Lazarescu milling about his apartment, making a lengthy and boring phone call, and then feeling a little ill. He tells his neighbors, and they bemoan his drinking but (somewhat reluctantly) call an ambulance. The paramedic, a woman named Mioara, picks him up and takes him to a hospital. There, he is rudely dismissed by a doctor. They go to another hospital. And another. And another. Two-and-a-half hours later, and the finality implicit in the film’s title is still unrealized.

Many critics are hailing the film as a dark comedy, but as far as I’m concerned the Lazarescu’s only good joke is its premise. Director Cristi Puiu uses a strange, handheld sterility that gives the film the feel of a poorly-edited documentary. Shots linger on for minutes at a time, with odd moments and fully-realized relationships forming among secondary characters (particularly the uniformly young and beautiful doctors at each hospital). Lazarescu, who becomes increasingly vegetated until he is finally naked after soiling himself yet again, becomes merely a vessel for Puiu’s more interesting, if less sympathetic, characters.

Lazarescu’s frustration is multifaceted. Rather than simply indicting the bureaucracy or hypocrisy of public health care/the hospital system/prescription meds/etc., the film speaks to the larger complications in life. Each doctor – even the most villainous – is a person trying to do their job the way they were taught. The Sisyphean struggle of Mioara to find Lazarescu proper care is posited on the problems of organization infrastructure and the geriatric curse, that nearing inevitability of death.

Writing about the film makes it sound extremely unappetizing, and I suppose it is. However, even The Death of Mr. Lazarescu can’t hold a candle to the teaser-trailer for Miami Vice, Michael Mann’s forthcoming merging of Collateral’s perfect mise-en-sc