- Alexander Nanau’s masterful and captivating documentary, revealed in Venice, investigates the incredible irregularities of the Romanian healthcare system
“We are not human anymore. We only care about money.” This scathing statement, uttered in Alexander Nanau’s documentary Collective, is not just a series of empty words, let alone the expression of a kind of idealism. Indeed, the investigation followed step by step in the film — revealed out of competition in Venice, screened in Toronto, recently awarded in Zurich and in competition this week at the 10th La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival — reveals a Romanian healthcare system rotten to the bone. Corruption at every level leaves citizens, who naively believe their hospitals would be able to treat them properly, to die in absurd circumstances, and this in full knowledge of government authorities.
A monstrously edifying analysis which the German director (born in Romania and already well-received with his previous film Toto and His Sisters [+see also:
film profile]) shows us with exceptional cinematic talent, at the very opposite of the conventional TV investigative documentary. Nanau successfully combines the suspense — worthy of a thriller — of the journalists’ successive discoveries and the attempts of a new minister to fix the system, with sequences dedicated to the victims and survivors that are devoid of pathos but infinitely respectful.
Everything begins with a dramatic and extremely publicised event. On 30 October 2015, a fire breaks out at Colectiv Club, a nightclub in Bucharest without any emergency exits: 27 young people die and 180 are wounded (with nearly 90 of them in critical condition) and the Romanian government promises that they will be treated “as well as they would be in Germany.” But 37 of the severely burnt patients will die in the following weeks because, as a source tells journalists Catalin Tolontan, Mirela Neag and Răzvan Lutac who have decided to investigate the story, “they were kept in an environment that was not satinised and exposed to one of the most resistant hospital bacteria in Europe (pseudomonas aeruginosa).” Following this information, the trio of the Sports Gazette finds out that the disinfecting products provided to 350 hospitals (2000 operating rooms) by the factory Hexi Pharma are diluted up to ten times the normal dosage once delivered. A practice which conceals corruption at several levels, tax avoidance schemes and secret protection by the State, which had been aware of this procedure for a long time. Despite propaganda, the scandal brings down the Health Minister, who is replaced by Vlad Voiculescu, a former activist for patients’ right who wants to reform the recruitment process for hospital managers and will face a great many obstacles. Meanwhile, other revelations bubble to the surface thanks to some brave testimonies shared by the team of the Sports Gazette, and all of this unfolds under the watchful eyes of severe burn victims such as Tedy Ursuleanu, who try to rebuild themselves and get on with their lives.
Secret services, strange car accidents, arrests, protests, strategy meetings for the editorial team or in the minister’s office, hideouts to photograph suspects, negotiations with potential sources, explosive debates on television shows, counter-attacks from the powers in place: Collective is a thrilling and terrifying documentary, shot and edited with a masterful hand, which demonstrates with ruthless honesty that ending nepotism, politicisation, and conflicts of interest is a difficult, long, sometimes exasperating process that relies on the shoulders of a few pugnacious and clear-headed individuals working for the common good.
(Translated from French)
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