A few years ago, a magazine pondered the question "What is the worst country in the world?" Just being an aggressive dictatorship wasn't enough to make the list. One of the key questions used to determine which country made the cut was "If you have a medical emergency in Country X, will an ambulance be available to pick you up?" The importance that people place on health care, and the gut reaction they have when its not provided in a timely, professional way, is a huge subject that's not often dealt with in fiction films. After watching Cristi Puiu's latest film, you may develop a whole new appreciation for America's crappy system. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu begins in the kitchen of a filthy, newspaper-strewn apartment in dilapidated Bucharest, with Mr. Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) nervously dialing for an ambulance. He informs the person on the other end of the phone that he has had a severe headache for four days, which can't be a good sign. Instead of sending out the ambulance immediately, however, they decide to quiz him to make sure he's on the level.
Do they know him to be a hypochondriac with a history of crying wolf? Can they tell that he has had too much to drink tonight? Or is this just how things are done in a resource-strapped society? It's unclear, but the phone call does not end reassuringly. Not convinced that the ambulance will even show up, Lazarescu decides to impose on his neighbors in the apartment down the hall for medicine. They know him to be an amiable drunk and hardly take his pleas seriously, until he throws up ropes of blood on their carpet. The next two hours of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu consist of a rainy blur of ambulance lights and street lights, and endless cross-talk between people trying to get a rapidly failing man to where he needs to be. Needless to say, Lazarescu is not a lucky man, and his luck on the night in question is horrendous. Lazarescu's emergency coincides with a local bus crash that fills every regional emergency room with trauma patients. Anyone who has ever been forced to wait for emergency room care will be gripping the edge of their seats during the scene where we see a physician stop the parademics in the parking lot from unloading Lazarescu.