Collective / Colectiv (2019, Documentary)
Dir: Alexander Nanau
When does this story begin?
In 2015 there was a fire at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, footage of which we see, and tragically 27 people died that night. This foundation is almost entirely laid in the opening moments of the film, and how it caused riots and a change in government, all of which is more than enough for a feature documentary itself. This is not really that story. This is more about the injured, 37 of whom died after the fire, and the investigation their treatment sparked, then the shocking things it uncovered.
Who does the film focus on?
I’d say there are two groups, at times on different sides, that we focus on, the journalists and later on, the newly appointed health minister. There’s not as much focus put on the survivors as you might expect, though the recovery of one does keep recurring, a woman who is unnamed for a while, returning to her frequently, tethering the film to what’s really important, the patients who are obviously getting forgotten by many in charge.
The journalists pursue the question as to why so many of the burn victims died in the aftermath, despite repeated assurances that they were getting the best healthcare available. This leads to questions about why they weren’t sent to neighbouring countries for treatment. Then it emerges that bacterial infections were the main cause of death in these cases, not the extent of the burns injuries. In some places this film is given the longer alternative title ‘Collective: Unravelling a Scandal’ and unravel is the perfect word to describe how this develops.
How do things unravel?
The whole health system of Romania really does come apart, with so many issues uncovered. As one scandal is pursued, it leads to questions being asked, each one seems to lead to another connected scandal. Soon, the whole situation is a complete mess, far from where we began, yet all linked back to the tragedy that got the investigation started.
Why is it a tough film to watch?
The callousness and corruption are shocking, especially as the cost has been, and continues to be, civilian lives. On the other hand, we see some people doing their best, putting their careers, even their lives, at risk to try to improve things, including brave whistleblowing doctors and frustrated accountants. The newly-appointed health minister literally shocks everyone when he’s honest and straight-talking, stunning victims and journalists alike. We start to root for him and feel his frustration as he comes up against immutable bureaucracy.
WHERE can I watch this?
I think it’s on VOD and other services around the world, but here in the UK, it’s on the BBC’s Player catch-up service as part of their ‘Storyville’ documentary collection. It’s not an easy watch, the levels of incompetence, corruption, and lack of regard for human life are harrowing, but that’s testament to how well the film is made and how well it covers the revelations of the situation.
Nominated for ‘Best Documentary Feature’, and ‘Best International Feature’. Nominations in more than one category usually suggest a film has a higher chance of winning in the obvious one, though I don’t think it’s the case this time. That’s not to say it hasn’t got a good chance, it’s riveting and better than the other documentary nominees I’ve seen (so far) but it’s a strongly competitive year and there’s no one clear frontrunner sweeping the awards.