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Movie Review: COLLECTIVE

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”, Zach reviews . . . COLLECTIVE! (December 18, 2020)

Click here for the blurb and viewing link of COLLECTIVE!

Full Review

“It is rare to find a film that is both engaging and provocative, but especially in a documentary. The recently released Romanian documentary COLLECTIVE, which screened at countless festivals last year including Sundance and is available in Red River’s Virtual Cinema, does exactly that. Not only does it both engage and provoke, but it also tells a true story that is almost impossible to believe and that many of us in the United States probably know very little about.

The question of humanity is central to this film. At a time when many of us question what our world has become, this film is a good reminder of how there are heroes among us. It also feels more timely than ever given the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the film and news coverage of the pandemic reveal the shortcomings of the health system and the amazing heroes on the frontlines. Here these heroes are reporters who, like our frontline workers, shine a light on such important issues and are champions for their fellow humans.

COLLECTIVE depicts the events surrounding a tragic fire at the Colectiv Nightclub in Bucharest that took 27 lives in 2015, Romania was understandably devastated. What they did not know is that another 37 people would die in the ensuing weeks due to inadequate hospital care and poorly maintained burn victim facilities, both facts that were well known to the Romanian government. The parallels between what we have seen in the year of 2020 and what Romania saw during the course of these events are astounding.

The documentary, made expertly by Alexander Nanau, follows a team of investigative journalists at, of all places, a sports newspaper. These journalists uncover the details of the story thanks to the contributions of a whistleblower. Led by reporter Cătălin Tolontan, the events are subsequently uncovered, which Nanau tracks for the audience to see as Tolontan and his team both watch events unfold and make the story come alive.

One of this piece’s biggest strengths is its reliance on these moments in time, both big and small, where the details of this corruption are revealed, both for the audience and in the newsroom. As a result, you almost feel as though you are there in the moment. Capturing details remains a vital part of any documentarian’s work. Nanau succeeds brilliantly in how he films these revelations, as well as how he builds up to the next major piece of information. I sat in utter shock so often during the course of the film as more and more details of corruption were revealed, struggling to believe that it could get any worse than it already was.

Aside from the attention to detail, there is also a great mix of focus on both the investigative team and those wrapped up in the scandal. While Tolontan and his team are the primary focus for the first half of the film, there is a shift to one of the Romanian government officials during the film’s second half. Vlad Voiculescu, who was made acting minister of health during this time of scandal, becomes as much a key focal point as Tolontan. Even though you do not empathize with the government, Voiculescu, whose youth and inexperience do make you feel for him at times, is a fascinating figure in this film’s story as his perspective helps to illustrate the repair that was needed and that he tried to strive for during his tenure.

Intriguingly, other Romanian leaders do not factor in closely to the film, nor does the disarray of the government. That said, I did learn a great deal about Romania’s politics and society, as well as how their healthcare system works.

Additionally, I cannot help but think of the 2015 film SPOTLIGHT and its own group of reporters who uncovered such a monumental story of clergy abuse coverup for the American public. I also cannot help but wonder if the Romanian public heard the same type of narrative that we did with the Catholic Church given the differences in the two governments.

Any good documentary film should make its viewers want to learn more about the subject, share the title with a friend, or discuss the movie with someone else who saw it. COLLECTIVE makes me want to do all three. It also makes me realize how much I miss the camaraderie that an art house movie theatre like Red River fosters for pieces like this. Were this able to screen in the Simchik or the Stonyfield, I guarantee many people would stick around for a post-film discussion as I often do with friends and perfect strangers.

So I encourage you to sit down at home with a family member or on your own and catch this title through Red River’s Virtual Cinema. You will not be sorry. It is easy to see why Romania submitted it for Best International Film at the 2021 Oscars, as well as why many critics and groups are ranking it high among titles of 2020, both as a documentary and as a foreign film. It is by far one of the most provocative films I have ever seen and ranks mighty high on my own list for 2020 thus far.

Stay tuned for Volume II, which will reveal my thoughts on ANOTHER ROUND, Denmark’s submission for Best International Film at the 2021 Oscars.” 

Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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