The documentary “Collective” begins with footage of a 2015 fire at a Bucharest nightclub that immediately killed 27 people. Scores more were injured and taken to Romanian hospitals, some with what should have been treatable burns. But in the coming months, 37 more people died from horrible infections and others were disfigured.
An outraged public took to the streets and ultimately forced out major government officials.
The following year, director Alexander Nanau embedded with journalists at a daily sports paper as they uncovered how things went wrong.
Reporter Catalin Tolontan and his colleagues learned that a company called Hexi Pharma provided hospitals with disinfectants that were heavily diluted and ineffective, leading to deaths from preventable infections.
As director Alexander Nanau points out, that storyline may sound familiar to fans of classic noir films. “It is very much like in ‘The Third Man’ by Carol Reed, right? In ‘The Third Man,’ the main character Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles, is selling diluted penicillin in post-war Vienna.”
There are other eerie similarities too, including the ultimate fate of the head of Hexi Pharma and the villain in “The Third Man.” Both died by suicide.
Nanau shares how he earned the trust of the Romanian journalists, who were initially resistant to letting a camera in the newsroom. And he explains how he ended up filming inside the government with the help of a new, reform-minded health minister.
“Collective” has won accolades around the globe, and is in Oscar contention for Best International Film and Best Documentary. Nanau was also set to receive a medal from Romania’s president, but he rejected it because he believes the country has failed its arts community during the pandemic.