Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Alexander Nanau.
In 2015 a fire ripped through a Bucharest nightclub killing 27 people and injuring another 180. There were no fire exits. Many who survived the fire but suffered horrible burns subsequently died under mysterious circumstances in hospital weeks later. Apparently, they died of bacterial infections caused by the hospital using substandard diluted disinfectants that had been provided to them by a major pharmaceutical company that held the contracts for most of the major hospitals in the city. The Sporting Gazette, a local newspaper well respected for its soccer coverage, began an investigation into the tragedy and veteran reporter Catalin Tolantan exposed massive fraud and corruption within the Romanian hospital system, its management and government cover ups. The sensational reports reached into the highest levels of government and eventually brought down the Health Minister.
A new and younger idealistic minister is appointed to take over the health department and promises to reform the system. Vlad Voiculescu was a former patients’ advocate and promised to get to the bottom of the corruption, but he found it hard going what with the entrenched system of patronage, bribery, negligence, ineptitude, greed and systemic political appointments that ensured the corruption continued. This is a searing indictment of the failure of government in Romania, and it also draws in a widespread web that encompasses big pharmaceutical companies, government corruption, gangsters, political patronage.
The Oscar nominated Collective is up there with the best films about resourceful investigative journalists exposing political corruption and dark secrets – like All The President’s Men and the Oscar winning Spotlight. Unlike those two films though Collective is a documentary which gives its coverage of events an immediacy and a sense of it all unfolding before our eyes. In an era of “fake news” and social media we need this kind of responsible investigative journalism and their relentless pursuit of the truth more than ever.
The film has been directed by Romanian born filmmaker Alexander Nanau (Toto And His Sisters, etc), who follows Tolantan and his team of investigative journalists as they probe deeper into the story. He and his film crew have also been granted unlimited access to Voiculescu and his series of press conferences and strategy meetings. The title itself is quite clever as it not only refers to the name of the nightclub where the tragedy occurred, but it also refers subtly to the collective failings of the government and its checks and balances and its duty to protect its citizens, and also to the sense of collective guilt of those involved in the corruption that caused so many unnecessary deaths.
Many of the film’s themes will resonate strongly with audiences especially in this era of pandemics, lockdowns, failed vaccination rollouts and powerful people playing politics with people’s lives for profit. However, the film is a little too long, and there are too many fly on the wall sequences of meetings, discussing strategies and political ideas, that the film loses its focus and becomes a bit repetitive. And it loses that sense of anger and outrage that drove its early revelations.
However, Nanau has included some truly graphic and disturbing footage, including some mobile phone footage of the fire as it break out and the ensuing panic that erupted. There is also some horrific images of maggots crawling around the open wounds of one of the burn victims. Nanau also focuses on Teddy Ursuleanu, one of the survivors, who allowed a series of photographs to be taken and displayed that graphically illustrated the extent of her injuries, which lends a more hopeful and optimistic tone to the often grim film.
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