A big thank you and a fuck you to Tartan Films today. Thank you for bringing to general art-house audiences Cristi Puiu’s compelling, devastating, unforgettable The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Fuck you for being a Park Chanwook enabler, however, dumping his utterly distasteful steaming pile of drek Lady Vengeance, on the same day, and possibly stealing Puiu’s thunder. One gnaws, with fury and awe, at the everyday fabric of life as it’s just about to be ripped away; the other settles for lies, platitudes, clichés, facile notions of the “shades between good and evil, right and wrong.” With The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Puiu emerges as a bold new voice in international cinema, while Park finally exposes himself as nothing more than the Korean David Fincher, stuffing the mouths of his slack-jawed audiences with gobs of what they think they want. Yet Park’s cinema isn’t simply just empty flash…like Fincher’s ornate nihilsm, it’s propped up with bombastic self-importance and turgid social “commentary.”
Doubtless, Lady Vengeance’s florid narrative ingenuity is stunning to behold (the script folds and layers back on itself like ribbon candy), yet when it finally reveals its intentions (involving some of the most exploitative violence against children I’ve ever seen in a film), only the most amoral, cynical, desensitized viewer won’t protest at the sheer hypocrisy. Run screaming from the theater…and into Lazarescu, which, rather than take the fanboy approach to the “consequences of death” (Park’s two hours of mindless mayhem followed by a single disingenuous tear—meant to make us leave the theater in contemplation—is fatuous enough to make Kill Bill Volume Two look like King Lear), looks at the final hours of a solitary man’s life as a web of societal delusions, bureaucracies, and sheerly absurd trials. In many ways, it’s a vision of hell, a descent into disconnection and, finally, possibly, grace. In other words, Puiu has a vision. Park simply has found a trend.
Dear Tartan Films:
I know it’s difficult to find a way to market a film such as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and hats off to you for even trying. But your trailer, which astonishingly transforms this languidly paced descent into blackness as a wacky Eastern European comedy, is both one of the most misleading and most condescending marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen. This ”Shining”-level near parody of a trailer turns the sad old man’s final hours into a bumbling series of kooky hospital encounters, adorable kitty cat reaction shots, and (!) pratfalls, all backed by Emir Kusturica-worthy circus music. To be fair, there is a delicately absurdist strain in the film, yet a head-slapping, belching farce this most definitely is not. Treat the film with the respect it deserves. Ugly.