Collective, the outstanding documentary directed by Alexander Nanau, made history by being the first Romanian movie to be nominated for the Oscars. This masterpiece entered the race with two nominations: Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature Film.
The documentary revolves around the tragic events of 2015, when the nightclub Colectiv was engulfed in flames during a concert, causing the death of 64 people and injuries to other 146. The fire started during the performance of metal core band Goodbye to Gravity, who were celebrating the release of the album Mantras of War with a free concert.
The fire was due to the band’s pyrotechnics, which ignited one of the pillars that supported the ceiling and which was covered in flammable soundproofing foam. Although the band members and the audience maintained their calm when the pillar was ignited, the fire spread rapidly to the ceiling, causing it to collapse; panic installed immediately, with 200 to 400 people rushing to the only working exit door and the club was quickly transformed into a death trap.
26 people died during the fire, while other 38 died in hospitals. This was the most tragic event for the country since 1989 and was followed by three days of national mourning.
A film focusing on the rotten healthcare system
Many things which could have prevented the proportions of this tragedy were discovered after the terrible event, like the fact that the club had only one tiny working exit door or the fact that there were only three small fire extinguishers, but no sprinklers (which would automatically run in case of fire).
However, the most shocking discoveries which followed after what happened in Colectiv were those made in the Romanian healthcare system. And this is exactly what Collective chooses to present the world.
Following a team of journalists who investigate the maladministration in public hospitals, Collective reveals the corruption and fraud which lies at the core of the Romanian healthcare system. The facet officials choose to present the world after the fire in Colectiv turns out to be a series of lies that lose more and more credibility as patients die in hospitals.
The turning point is constituted by the discovery of the diluted disinfectants used in public hospitals, which turn out to have a concentration ten times lower than the one they were supposed to. At the time, there were over 200 hospitals in the country which were supplied with these disinfectants.
The response given by the Minister of Health after this shocking discovery is far from satisfactory and raises suspicion; as more of what is actually going on in hospitals is uncovered, he is forced to resign. Shortly after, the supplier of the diluted disinfectants dies in a car crash and questions about the true nature of his death begin to appear, with people wondering whether it was a simple accident or murder/suicide.
The new Minister of Health is overwhelmed by the situation in Romanian hospitals; not only do patients die due to bacterial infection, but they are also treated with cruelty and disinterest by people absorbed only by the desire of making more money. However, the minister’s desire to change the system for the better is surely a battle difficult to win; meanwhile, the team of journalists begins to receive their own threats.
Real people, real stories, real losses
The film constantly comes with reminders of the seriousness of events by presenting those affected by the terrible administration, although its main focus remains on depicting the corruption which lies beneath the system.
We can see parents grieving for their children who were killed by the fire or survivors who are trying their best to return to living normal lives. Collective focuses on a particular story, the one of Tedy Ursuleanu, a woman who does not allow herself to be overwhelmed by the terrible event.
Besides becoming a spokesperson for the victims of Colectiv, Tedy agrees to do a photo shoot in which she exposes the burns on her skin, her lost fingers, and her bald head. The imagery supplies the movie with emotions of high intensity and adds to its effect; we are faced with the lies, corruption, and inhuman treatment which are characteristic of the officials, and we can also clearly see their effect on other people’s lives.
Although Tedy is a fighter and chooses not to revolt, her suggestive pictures highlight the suffering of those affected by the catastrophe and do now allow us to forget the tragic consequences of a corrupted system.
Collective received highly positive criticism, scoring 9.1/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and 95/100 on Metacritic. The success of the documentary is also reflected by the numerous wins and nominations, marking another premiere by becoming the first Romanian film to win Best European Documentary at European Film Awards. Thus said, it is probably time to add it to your watchlist too.