Nightclub fire victim Tedy Ursuleanu poses for a beautiful charity photo shoot in the harrowing documentary “Collective”
A powerful, harrowing documentary, co-produced with Luxembourg’s Samsa Film, is the film to see at the Luxembourg City Film Festival on Tuesday.
Alexander Nanau’s “Collective” starts with harrowing mobile phone footage of the devastating fire in the Colectiv night club in Bucharest on 30 October 2015. As metal core band Goodbye to Gravity performs on stage, pyrotechnics from their show set alight a pillar at the side of the stage. That’s not part of the show, the singer says. Within seconds the flames have spread to the ceiling and panic ensues as the crowd rushes for the only exit. 27 people died in the club. It is a nightmarish prelude to what happens in the rest of the film.
What starts out as a tribute to the victims and acknowledgment of the suffering their families go through, becomes a much more powerful film when Nanau meets Catalin Tolontan, editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor. Tolontan has heard that survivors of the fire have been dying in hospital, despite the government assuring the public that they were receiving the best possible treatment. Although his paper is mostly dedicated to sports news, Tolontan decides to investigate.
What happens next as Nanau follows the investigation is the sort of story that, if it were written as an investigative journalism drama along the lines of “All The President’s Men” or “Spotlight”, might be dismissed as being incredible.
Whistleblowers from the hospitals are distraught at feeling helpless as they treat patients with horrific burns. When a new health minister, former patients’ rights advocate Vlad Voiculescu, is appointed it seems there may be some progress as he promises transparency. But he, too, faces pressure from above and is frustratingly thwarted in his pledge to be a new moral centre in the government.
If the investigation, which plays out like a thriller via the most mundane methods of journalism, is the gripping core of the film, then reprieve, if one can call it that, comes in the beautiful face of one survivor. Interludes in the investigation show Tedy Ursuleanu being photographed for a charity exhibition. The young architect exposes her wounds, but also seems to be embracing her transfigured body in what are some wonderfully elegant and elegiac scenes.
“Collective” is a masterful achievement, a breathtaking expose of widescale power, corruption and lies. It is essential viewing.
Delano picks a film of the day from the programme every day throughout the Lux Film Fest. Duncan Roberts is a member of the festival’s selection committee.