★★★★★ - STUFF
- Why you need to see 2021's most shocking, sobering and stunning doco -
It was a tragedy that had already taken down one government.
On October 30, 2015, 27 people were killed and 180 injured when a fire broke out at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest. Outraged that it had been able to operate without adequate fire exits, the people of Romania took to the streets in a series of nationwide protests. Such was their fury that the social democratic government’s only option was to resign. In their place, a politically independent group of “technocrats” was placed in temporary charge of the nation until the current election cycle was due to end the following year. But, as they settled into office and attempted to calm tensions, it was clear the trauma and fallout from the Colectiv incident was far from over.
Over the next four months, 37 burn victims would die. Distraught family members couldn’t understand why offers from some of Europe’s top specialist units to take patients hadn’t been accepted and why, if they were being “treated better than in Germany” (as the health minister put it), were so many perishing due to “bacterial infections”.
Alexander Nanau’s stunning documentary follows the investigations by the journalists of Romanian’s daily newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor (Sports Gazette) into the appalling state of their hospitals and the rotten core of their medical system. What they uncover is sobering, shocking and makes you incredibly grateful for what we have in comparison. With Romania already home to some of the most dangerous hospital bacteria in Europe, Catalin Tolontan, Mirela Neag and their Gazeta team uncover horrifying evidence that disinfectant suppliers and hospital management had been diluting the active ingredient in their products – to about 1/10th of what they claimed.
Just as outrage-inducing, businessmen like Hexi Pharma CEO Dan Condrea had been diluting public money into his bottom line, overcharging for vital supplies and bribing officials to award him contracts.
Using an engaging, immersive fly-on-the-wall style, Nanau (whose previous subjects have included a sexagenarian contemporary artist living on the streets of Bucharest and the effect of the prison system on the children of an inmate) takes us inside press conferences, interviews, meetings and the Gazeta newsroom as the story unfolds.
While the twists and revelations would have Hollywood producers salivating at the prospect of a European All the Presidents’ Men or Spotlight, Collective excels just as much in capturing the quieter moments, as Tolontan and Neag contemplate where they are at and what still needs answering. There’s also an amazing perspective shift part-way through that just enriches and enlivens this already incredible tale even further.
Certainly not an easy watch – the early use of footage from the nightclub fire is both chilling and haunting – Collective is nonetheless an incredibly important documentary. While the story may be a damning indictment of one country, it offers a universal lesson in the importance of holding those in power to account and the difference a whistle-blower can make.
Rightly nominated for Academy Awards for both best documentary and best international film, this is documentary film-making at its undiluted finest.
- James Croot, STUFF
Collective is now playing at Light House Cuba!
(In Romanian with English subtitles)