Combustible Celluloid
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With: Razvan Lutac, Mirela Neag, Catalin Tolontan, Tedy Ursuleanu, Vlad Voiculescu
Written by: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opris
Directed by: Alexander Nanau
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Romanian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 109
Date: 11/20/2020

Collective (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alexander Nanau's extraordinary documentary Collective begins in Romania in 2015, where a fire broke out in a Bucharest nightclub, killing 27 people instantly and injuring 180. (A horrifying video from inside is shown.) Angry citizens took to the streets. The Prime Minister resigned. Astonishingly, 37 more victims died in hospitals from gruesome infections. The daily newspaper Sports Gazette investigated and discovered that the disinfectant used to clean scalpels and work areas had been diluted ten times or more. So essentially, bacteria was clinging to all the supposedly sterile equipment. The Ministry of Health resigned, and new one is appointed who tries to set things right again. The man in charge of the chemical company that sells the diluted disinfectant either commits suicide or is killed. Bribery and corruption runs rampant. And then an election happens and the crooked right-wing wins by a landslide, sending things back to square one.

Nanau shoots all of this in Frederick Wiseman style, fly-on-the-wall, although his style feels more active than just observational. The story pulls us in. The characters, from Gazette editor-in-chief Catalin Tolontan and his weary-looking colleague Mirela Neag, to the new Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu, and, strikingly Tedy Ursuleanu, a surviving burn victim who lost part of her hand and is covered with scars. She agrees to pose for a photo shoot that becomes a powerful exhibition. Collective is not a streamlined film; it moves like life, with moments that make your brain explode, and then other moments of stalemate. In the end, it's about the ongoing battle between crusading journalists and corrupt businessmen/politicians, apparently locked in a tie.

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