A fire in Bucharest is just the starting point in this dramatic exposé of corruption.


Here we have an outstanding film that gives devastating insights into life in Romania. That would be enough in itself to make it a strong recommendation, but its appeal is even wider than might be supposed. There are two reasons for that: first, the story told in Collective is so gripping, so powerful as drama, that it is a documentary that can safely be recommended even to viewers who usually steer clear of non-fiction cinema and, secondly, what it reveals about corruption and mismanagement in Romania can now be seen as increasingly comparable to the situation in other countries. No wonder that Collective reaches us at a time when it is already being seen as a strong contender in the 2021 Oscars.


The compelling narrative of Collective is all of a piece but nevertheless comes in two segments. In the first the central figure is Catalin Tolonton, the indefatigable editor and reporter for the Sports Gazette who pursued a major story arising from the number of deaths that occurred after the Colectiv, a nightclub in Bucharest, burnt down in October 2015. The government gave out assurances that all was totally under control (to borrow the title of another recent film about misfeasance) and claimed that the hospitals in the city were fully equipped to cope. Even so, in the days after the fire another thirty-seven people injured in the club were to die while being treated and Tolonton's investigations revealed the use of diluted disinfectants in hospitals that were in any case not fit for purpose. This part of Collective is an engrossing portrait of the press at work illustrating its ability to expose failures within the hospital system and also in the intelligence services that had turned a blind eye.


What the paper uncovered was so far from being fake news that it brought down the government and the film's second half, while not losing sight of Tolonton, concentrates principally on the new health minister appointed and the steps he tried to take. This man was Vlad Voiculescu, a former activist for patients' rights who now set out to reform the system. His efforts to do this are no less engrossing than the earlier scenes featuring the journalists. Indeed, the dramatic power of Collective only increases when the new minister is targeted by those now in power, the Social Democrats, who spread lies about him. The director here, Alexander Nanau, has talked of how what at the outset had seemed to be a story peculiar to Romania has since taken on extra weight due to recent parallels developing in other countries.


Fine as it is, Nanau's film is not without minor flaws (an heroic victim of the fire, Tedy Ursuleanu, is introduced into the film too suddenly and too abruptly not to briefly disrupt the flow and the final scene with an optimistic song on a car radio is overshadowed by the grim predictions of Vlad Voiculescu's father which immediately precede it). But these misjudgments are indeed minor and Nanau has done a magnificent job here giving us a work that is all the more powerful for refusing to use music to build up a sense of drama. The events are fully dramatic enough in themselves and Nanau knows it.


Original title: Colectiv.




Featuring  Catalin Tolontan, Vlad Voiculesco, Tedy Ursuleanu, Camelia Roiu, Nicoleta Ciobanu, Razvan Lutac, Mirela Neag, Narcis Hogea.


Dir Alexander Nanau, Pro Alexander Nanau, Alina David and Bianca Oana, Screenplay Antoaneta Opris and Alexander Nanau, Ph Alexander Nanau, Ed Alexander Nanau, George Cragg and Dana Bunescu.


Alexander Nanou Production/Samsa Film/HBO Europe/Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR)-Dogwoof.
109 mins. Romania/Hungary/Luxembourg/Germany/USA/Switzerland/Israel. 2019. Rel: 20 November 2020. Available on BFI Player. Cert. 15.