Alexander Nanau’s Collective is a reference to a devastating club fire in Romania. But the term collective is an apt term to describe the film as journalists, politicians, survivors and whistleblowers all convene to try to fix an unfixable system in this captivating documentary.
In October of 2015, a fire broke out during a concert at the Colectiv nightclub, killing 27 people and injuring another 180. In the following weeks, an additional 37 victims die in Romanian hospitals, mostly due to bacterial infections. The outrage in the country led to the resigning of the Social Democrat government and the temporary implementation of a Technocrat government.
Investigations begin at the Sports Gazette, a well-known daily sports publication, led by journalist Catalin Tolontan. Through sources, Tolontan learns the disinfectants used in burn units are highly diluted and would be ineffective in eliminating the bacteria that has been killing burn victims. During the investigations, he is briefed by the Romanian Minister of Health, Patriciu Archimas-Cadariu, who does nothing to assuage the country and deflects questioning.
Achimas-Cadariu eventually resigns and is replaced by a patient’s rights advocate, Vlad Voiculescu. While Achimas-Cadariu was a politican, Voiculescu is more humane and actually wants to fix things. When he attempts to make a sweeping change, he is blocked by political or legal roadblocks.
All the while, victims and loved-ones of victims attempt to move forward with their lives and try to understand why some died and some didn’t. Tedy Ursuleanu received extensive burns and memorably poses nude for photos in the film. The unveiling of her portraits are one of the few triumphant moments of the documentary.
The film flows beautifully between the political machinations, journalistic efforts and victims. The film includes brief horrifying footage of the fire and gives proper foundation to ground the investigations. Additionally, the interspersing of victims and their families always keeps perspective on the true purpose of what hopes to change.
The journalists take a bulk of the runtime, but their work is presented as a obligation more than a true calling. Each time they are given another piece of damning information, they don’t react with joy, but rather a sense of exhaustion at the levels of corruption among their government.
Voiculescu adds to this exhaustion as he cannot break through for real change despite being a part of the government. Not only does he want to fix things, he has clear reasoning and facts to support his ideas. Unfortunately, political pressures and widespread corruption gets in the way and there is no way to fix the system without tearing the entire thing down.
Though Collective exists as the opposite of an endorsement for Romanian tourism, the film shows how important it is for good people to attempt to break through corruption that cares more about money than people. I won’t forget it anytime soon.