29 September, 2023
"Collective" is a film in which the Bulgarian viewer will recognize his own reality at every minute
A part of the poster of the film “Collective” (source: Wikipedia Commons, Colectiv)

“Collective” is a film in which the Bulgarian viewer will recognize his own reality at every minute

Anita Dimitrova

This article was published on 30 April 2021 on the website of the newspaper “Sega” and is republished with the consent of the media. The subtitle is changed by the blog.

“Collective” is not a new film – it premiered in September 2019 at the Venice Film Festival. But it continues to attract the attention of academies and travels to viewers around the world – most recently with its two Oscar nominations, the first such success for a Romanian film in history, although neighboring cinema has scored points at major European festivals. Palme d’Or, Golden Bear, etc.).

In Bulgaria, “Collective” was screened at the 24th “Sofia Film Fest”, which passed with a delay and in silence due to the pandemic, and HBO Go subscribers can watch it at any time at home. The European Parliament now allows those who do not have HBO to watch it for free on the Internet until May 9 – as one of the three nominees for the LUX Prize. For the first time, it will be awarded not only by the votes of MEPs, but also to the public throughout the EU. And I highly recommend that it be seen – because it answers not only the internal question for the cultural community “why don’t we have such films”, but also the bigger question “how do we live and why do we allow this to happen”.

“Collective” is the name of a tragically famous club in Bucharest, licensed in the usual way for these latitudes – with a bribe here and there, without enough exits and with carelessness for fire safety. It has to accommodate 80 people, but 400 are allowed in for the concert of the group “Goodbye to Gravity”. And while the metal band stigmatizes the corruption in their lyrics, the club flares up. 27 were killed immediately, 180 were injured, and another 37 were killed in the next two months, due to insufficient or inadequate care in Romanian hospitals (mostly due to internal hospital infections).

The similarities start here – more than a decade before the fire in the club “Collective” in 2015, we had the tragedy of the club “Indigo” in Sofia, where seven children died due to greed and carelessness. The Indigo case in our country ended with small fines; in Romania, The incident at Collective led to mass protests and the resignation of the government. The health minister in the appointed cabinet, Vlad Voiculescu, is young, “smart and handsome”, has worked abroad and in the non-governmental sector, and seems thoughtful and ready for change. But change will not come easily or quickly.

“Collective”, however, is not a film about the executive branch, but about the fourth estate. The focus of Alexander Nanau’s documentary is journalist Cătălin Tolontan, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Sporturilor, who seems determined to expose the irregularities behind the deaths of 64 young people and the suffering of many others. His battle for the truth is shown in parallel with the fate of Tedy Ursuleanu – a girl disfigured by the fire.

The effect of the investigations by Tolontan and his colleagues is not miraculous, but it does provide some answers as to why Romania ranks 48th in the Reporters Without Borders index for media freedom and we are ranked 112th. “When the media bows to the authorities, the authorities abuse the citizens,” Cătălin synthesized part of the problem at the beginning of the film.

Other than that, everything else is the same – corruption, offshore companies, rotten bureaucracy, miserable hospitals, their greedy directors being political appointments, bribed regulators, unscrupulous pharmaceutical oligarch who sells to health facilities disinfectants with the qualities of holy water, opportunistic media, low voter turnout (especially low among young people), inertia, killing any desire for change …

“Collective” is a film in which the Bulgarian viewer will recognize his own reality at every minute. But it is also a film that will not appear in Bulgaria – the lack of courage to put a finger in the wound in our country is proverbial. This is not just a feature of our captive journalism – our artists are far more timid and broken with reality even than it is.

It is not a great consolation that free speech about problems and higher civic activity do not make Romanians happier than us (richer – yes, according to statistics). “Only a handful of people are discussing the real problems on the Internet. And the others will not wake up in 30 years,” said minister Voiculescu’s father, discouraged. “You’d better go back to Vienna.” Still, Nanau ends “Collective” on an optimistic note – with a song that says “The characters are new, but they may look like you”, and in the hope that art can still change something for the better.

Photo: The space before the club “Collective” in Bucharest after the incident (source: Alin, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia Commons)

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