Again and again, as film critics announced their top ten lists of movies from 2006, a curious title appeared—The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.

It's a film that most American moviegoers haven't even heard about. That's because it comes from Romania, and does not include any movie stars you've seen before. It only made occasional appearances in U.S. arthouse theaters while it was winning awards at international film festivals. But there is good news for adventurous moviegoers—the film is now available on DVD.

It is indeed an award-worthy film, and it marks the emergence of a director that some are already calling a master—Cristi Puiu. Reportedly the first in a six-film series called "Stories From the Suburbs of Bucharest," Lazarescu is a masterpiece of subtlety, a powerful expression of compassion, and a work of art worthy of comparison to masterpieces by Eric Rohmer and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes. It may remind others of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue.

Lazarescu follows the final journey of a hard-drinking, lonely old man named Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu). As the film opens, Lazarescu's health is taking a turn for the worse. He makes urgent phone calls to family members and the hospital, asking for help and an ambulance. Then he visits his neighbors, who respond with a mix of concern and compassion.

When the ambulance finally arrives, it's a few quick tests and then off to the hospital. And then to another hospital. And another. Poor Lazarescu is subjected to a succession of memorably maddening encounters with doctors. As he is wheeled from condescending lectures to spectacular displays of insensitivity and hard-heartedness, he is accompanied by a longsuffering ambulance nurse named Mioara (Luminita ...

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