Collective – movie review

The astounding Romanian documentary Collective exposes corruption on a scale I haven’t seen. The immorality reaches into the highest echelons of the health system, killing patients who would otherwise survive. This happened recently – in October 2015 to be more precise – and it took an investigative reporter, Catalin Tolontan, and two of his colleagues, Irela Neag and Razvan Lu Ac, from a sports newspaper to blow the whistle. Even they could not have envisaged just how widespread the tentacles of this scandal spread.

It all starts with a tragic fire at a dance club in Bucharest. Twenty-seven die and 180 are injured, many burned. Within months another 37 pass away. It soon becomes clear that something far more sinister is at play here. Bacterial infections have infiltrated the burns hospital and fire survivors are succumbing to them. The hospital isn’t using the correct concentration of chemicals as a disinfectant. Wrapped up in all this is big pharma and greed.

Government messaging about best possible treatment and care are clearly a smokescreen. The Health Minister’s overtures are worthless. Hospital managers aren’t doing their jobs. Neither are some doctors. They are milking the system for personal gain. A new health minister, Vlad Voiculesc – who used to be an advocate for patient rights – is appointed. He vows to get to the bottom of what has been going on and root out the bag eggs. But just when it looks like the situation couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does.

Collective is a devastating ride. I sat gob-snacked at what was unfolding. The film took me right there as the events unfold … with the journos asking the questions, attending news conferences and hearing first-hand accounts of the carnage. If this was a feature rather than a documentary, I suspect some might consider it too far-fetched to ring true. Despite the revelations, we witness disbelief and outrage, but not hysteria. Tolontan and his fellow reporters and photographers go about their business with a calm determination.

Collective is a truly remarkable piece of work directed, shot and co-edited by Alexander Nanau. It applies a blowtorch to a rotten system. It also paints an unedifying portrait of people supposedly in the business of helping others, but who are out to profit in the most heinous of ways.

Alex First

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