Collective movie review & film summary (2020)

It all began on October 30, 2015 at the popular Bucharest nightclub Colectiv. Goodbye to Gravity, a metalcore band, ended their set with a small pyrotechnics show, which very quickly leapt to the backstage walls, before igniting the ceiling. The entire club was engulfed within seconds, captured on a horrifying cell phone video. Mass pandemonium ensued (the club had no fire exits). Twenty-seven people were killed that night, and 180 injured. Thirty-seven burn victims died in the hospital over the following months, not from their burns, but from infections acquired while in the hospital. Statements from government officials were given in Orwellian “newspeak”: “At present, all medical needs are being met.” The public was reassured that there was no reason to transfer patients to Germany, with its state-of-the-art burn trauma centers. The Health department doubled-down on the lie that the victims were being well taken care of. Romanians took to the streets in protests, so vehement and sustained that it led to the fall of the entire government. After the Prime Minister resigned, a new government was installed, and given a one-year mandate to untangle the web of what went wrong. But how can a system investigate itself if the system itself is rotten? “Collective” documents this thorny difficult process. Nauna was in on it from the ground-up.

Journalist Catalin Tolontan, editor-in-chief of the sports daily Gazeta Sporturilor, is a key figure. Seen early on at a briefing given by the Minister of Health, where the lies and platitudes from the podium are so obvious they almost create their own atmosphere, Tolontan and his skeleton crew of journalists cover the story. What at first seems to be a classic story of government incompetence is revealed as something far more sinister. The journalists discover that the disinfectants provided to the hospitals by a pharmaceutical company have been diluted, rendering them useless. This revelation is front-page news for months as this small team of journalists track down the who, what, why of it all. If disinfectants are diluted, then that means no Romanian is safe in the hospital. There is much resistance to Tolontan’s reporting. A hostile talk show host has Tolontan on to discuss the case, saying to him, aggressively: “All you write about the healthcare system is terrifying. What is your goal?” Look at the Orwellian phraseology, how it positions Tolontan as an irritant, a problem. Tolontan keeps his cool, saying: “We have blindly trusted the authorities. Myself included, as a journalist. When the press bows down to the authorities, the authorities will mistreat the citizens.” Nicolae Ceaușescu is never mentioned, but his presence is still felt, as is the memory of living under that totalitarian regime, the most stifling in all of Eastern Europe.

The diluted disinfectants are just the beginning. “Collective” is amazingly fluid, and the narrative keeps shifting, when the focus moves on to the next target: from the pharmaceutical company to the “accredited” labs to the mafia-like caste of “hospital managers” … the entire system is rotten. The whole thing is run on bribes. Even patients are in on it. “Collective” is a great movie about how a free and independent press holds power to account, and calls out hypocrisy and venality. It’s illuminating that a sports daily would head up this investigation, and not a mainstream news outlet.

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