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…an intense documentary that unfolds much like a thriller, as it immerses us in the complexities of a tragedy and the subsequent legal recourse following the revelations of large-scale health-care fraud.
Charting a recent scandal that gripped the nation of Romania, Collective is an intense documentary that unfolds much like a thriller, as it immerses us in the complexities of a tragedy and the subsequent legal recourse following the revelations of large-scale health-care fraud. Filmmaker Alexander Nanau painstakingly crafts a detailed saga that gives a voice to the numerous parties involved – the journalists, activists, as well as the victims and their advocates.
A timestamp of October 30, 2015 provides historical context. A fire breaks out during a concert in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest. We learn that 27 “youngsters” perish, while 180 are severely injured. An additional 37 burn victims die in the subsequent months from aggressive hospital bacterial infections.
There is universal outrage over the tragedy, especially focusing on the faulty fire exits at the venue. People take to the streets nationwide in protest as corruption and medical incompetency are exposed and railed against. This unrest leads to the resignation of the Prime Minister of Romania and the replacement of his Social Democratic Government.
The filmmaker plunges us into meetings and tribunals where grieving parents lament the tragic loss of their loved ones with heartrending testimonials. Fan footage from the concert, complete with pyrotechnics, is shown. The lead singer remarks, “Something is on fire here. That’s not part of the show,” before calling for a fire extinguisher. The ceiling turns into an inferno in a matter of seconds. The amateur video images are horrifying.
The filmmaker then takes us through the painstaking sleuthing process of gaining evidence to hold those accused of negligence responsible. We learn that at most of the country’s hospitals, the disinfectants used are so diluted that they were rendered ineffective. A major pharmaceutical company, Hexi Pharma, is implicated in the far-ranging corruption.
Refreshingly, there are no ‘talking heads’ style interviews to bog the action down. Narration is unnecessary next to these probing images. Rather, we tag along as the investigative journalists do their research. Cătălin Tolontan is the editor-in-chief of the sports daily Gazeta Sporturilor, and one of the main sleuths. He and his reporters heroically expose an “institutional lie at the state level, propagated through all communication channels.”
One survivor who has been horrifically scarred (including fingers rendered to stumps) is shown posing for photographs, and later attending an art exhibition’s opening.
“This story is so mind-blowing, I’m afraid we are going to look crazy,” laments one determined researcher. Journalist Tolontan asserts his main intention is to provide the public with sufficient “knowledge about the powers that shape our lives.”
There’s a dramatic turn of events involving the head of the pharmaceutical company under investigation for bribery and corruption. Eventually, his money laundering is estimated to be in the tens of millions. After the Minister for Health resigns, the new Minister promises transparency.
Alexander Nanau’s cinéma vérité style puts us almost in the shoes of the journalists, accompanying them throughout every step of their journey of discovery. We’re even privy to meetings within the Ministry for Health as the new Minister and his staff systematically try to find solutions to repair the gross incompetence and restore the nation’s faith in the medical system.
The press conferences, television appearances and the investigation itself is interspersed with scenes of the badly scarred woman adjusting to her injuries, such as trying out a robotic hand. Crucially, Collective never lets us forget the ongoing personal cost of this tragedy.