‘Collective’ Plays Like Romanian ‘All The President’s Men’
New documentary screens through DGC@Home
Friday, November 27, 2020
“All the President’s Men” (1976)
“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005)
“12:08 East of Bucharest” (2006)
"Collective," now streaming through Digital Gym Cinema's DGC@Home, is the official Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It is rare for a documentary to be submitted in this category but then this is not your typical documentary.
"Collective" begins with a fire that broke out in a Bucharest nightclub in 2015. But the fire that resulted in dozens of deaths is just the catalyst for a gripping documentary that plays out more like a thriller or perhaps a Romanian "All the President’s Men."
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Catalin Tolontan, a reporter at the Sports Gazette, discovers information exposing a seriously corrupt health system that was killing patients while rewarding many managers for turning a blind eye. In riveting detail the film takes us from the initial tragedy to the optimism inspired by a persistent team of journalists and a well-intentioned health minister. A free press is highlighted in a way to show its power to create change and to get information out to the public.
At one point Tolontan explains, "When the press bows down to the authorities, the authorities will mistreat the citizens" and this happens worldwide. At a time when President Trump likes to vilify the press and encourage others to do the same, it is refreshing to see a crowd chanting support for the press and a single reporter.
While Tolontan's efforts drive much of the film, director Alexander Nanau takes the time to follow other narrative threads. He introduces us to families grieving over loved ones lost in the fire or in the incompetent care of a burn unit that was using diluted disinfectant, which led to lethal bacterial infections in patients. He also follows Vlad Voiculescu who becomes a reforming Minister of Health trying to clean up decades of corruption in hospitals. But he meets resistance at almost every turn. At one point his frustration erupts as he notes that in any sane country you should be able to remove a product that kills rather then being stopped by laws and bureaucracy. There is even time for a fascinating look at Tedy Ursuleanu, a survivor of the fire who was badly injured yet inspires with her positive attitude.
But just as you allow yourself to start feeling like progress is being made, the film delivers a rather crushing blow as elections reveal that money and greed prove resistant to change. But that does not negate all the hopeful energy that came earlier but it does prove a sobering reminder that we have to be ever vigilant in watching over those in power.
"Collective" is a thoroughly engrossing and superbly crafted film that explores one country’s specific problems while also resonating universally in terms of addressing issues that affect people everywhere. Make an effort to check this one out.
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