Film Review: Collective – Director: Alexander Nanau

Collective is a deep dive into the Romanian hospital healthcare system by investigative journalists which leads to a heart of darkness. One of the most enthralling and unsettling documentaries I have seen in recent years. The conspiracy it exposes also shines a glimmer of light onto the wider aspect of European healthcare systems as they have come under pressure in the light of the Covid pandemic.

 CollectiveThe Colectiv was a popular music venue in Bucharest. On October 2015, metal band Goodbye to Gravity were playing. Part of their stage act that night involved pyrotechnics. Sparklers in an indoor venue. Tragedy occurred when this ignited a fire. 27 people died on the night. 180 were injured and many were burns victims who were hospitalised. Subsequently 37 of those died from hospital-acquired bacterial infections.

The fire itself was the worst in Romanian history. The fact it did not have fire exits, or any health and safety standards met, precipitated mass demonstrations against bureaucratic and Government ineptitude.

But it was the avoidable deaths in the public hospitals which alerted the journalists to a bigger story.

 CollectiveThe movie follows Catalan Tolontan, a reporter for the Gazette, primarily a sports newspaper. When looking into the deaths they are approached by in informant who tells them the disinfectant used in the hospitals are all diluted down to ten percent of their stated concentrations. Surreptitious samples obtained and tested by the newspaper confirm this.

What follows is a fascinating and suspenseful tracking of the source of this. Journalists stake out the company where these products are made. They manage to intercept one shipment as it leaves the factory doors. Samples of this are confirmed to be adulterated.

We follow the discussion in the newsroom as Tolotan and his small team collate the information they have gained. There is a startled disbelief as to what is peeled back.

This company supplies all the public hospitals in Romania.

 CollectiveThe camera is at a press conference where the Minister of Health is confronted by this from several journalists. He refutes this by stating that Government appointed investigators have confirmed the disinfectants are at their proper strengths.

What follows is a path of corruption which spirals deeper into the Government and bureaucracy.

The small team follow the money, to get to the truth. This rivals and surpasses the legendary Wire television series. The more that is uncovered, the more disturbing the extent of the crime.

Large public demonstrations followed the fire and the subsequent deaths in hospital of the burns victims.

The Social Democrat Government is ousted at the end of 2015. A new Minister of Health Vlad Voiculescu takes over. Director Nanau swings the focus to him. He comes from a health background and has been an activist in the past in addressing health issues in the country. He had a lucrative position outside Romania, but returned back to confront this slow rolling disaster.

The camera is with him at press conferences. He publicly verifies the fact of the adulterated sterilising equipment but refuses to answer why the Ministry of Health lied about this previously.

With his team as they discuss their own investigation into the system. It is amazing how much access the documentary team were given to the inner workings of the Government Minister.

 CollectiveWith the same style that was parodied by The Office, Voiculescu then talks directly to the camera about his feeling and unease as to what is being uncovered.

There is a reason for this startlingly frank and open footage. When it is revealed, it is devastating. A nest is uncovered. Is it a nest of vampires? Very close, the Minister does come from Transylvania.

The movie does not aim to hook you at the start. Actually. It is quite under-stated and Nanau is able to let the story unfold with what seems like a leisurely pace, but actually that is the hook.

It has won numerous awards since its premier at the Venice Film Festival in September 2019. It has been nominated for Best Documentary by the upcoming BAFTA’s and Academy Awards.

This movie is an incredibly brave alert from the journalists and a Government Minister in a crucial portfolio. It is also a call to arms to keep uncovering.

Rev Orange Peel