Collective (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: Journalists, Doctors, and Government Officials

Director: Alexander Nanau

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (It would probably be a PG-13-level for graphic medical images)

Release Date: November 20, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

I have a confession to make: I didn’t realize that Collective was a documentary until after I finished watching it. (The press notes had touted it as Romania’s Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film, which I had neglected to realize could include docs.) I’ll go ahead and turn that into a compliment by saying that I was impressed by its strong sense of verisimilitude. That’s not always easy to accomplish when telling a true story on screen, whether it’s in the form of a docudrama or an actual documentary. Collective presents a story of government and corporate corruption and medical malfeasance in Southeastern Europe, but if you’ve been alive¬† anywhere in the world in 2020, you’re surely acutely aware of the scourge of those ills no matter where you live. The fight to expose all of the terrible decisions is kind of Sisyphean, but it’s reassuring to know that there are still people who are willing to fight that fight.

The tragedy that sets everything off is a fire at a Romanian nightclub that killed about a couple dozen people from burns and smoke inhalation, with the number of the dead more than doubling in the hours and days following the conflagration. It quickly becomes clear that a lot of these deaths could have been prevented if not for common dangerous practices at the medical facilities, as multiple fatalities are tied to disinfectants that were diluted to save money, thus allowing bacteria to spread to dangerous levels. We discover what this means in quite stark terms with the shot of a human body crawling with maggots on a hospital bed. Amidst it all, a group of journalists keep asking the questions that need to be asked for the public to hear. They’re hardened by the corruption, but not numb to it; widespread incompetence is the day-to-day muck they know that they have to wade through.

There is a clinical, procedural approach to the material in Collective that is quite dry, but it gets the point across. There’s a lot of talk about “pyocanic bacteria,” surely more than in any other movie I’ve ever seen. (You might think that surely this tone would have tipped me off to the fact that this was a documentary. I guess I just assumed that this was the Romanian way, or at least the way of director Alexander Nanau.) If you’re tired of getting outraged at the scandals in your own country but still want to be angry, Collective offers you plenty to get worked up about. It won’t assure you that this world will be fully redeemed anytime soon, but you might come away a little optimistic that redemption is somewhat possible at some point in the future.

Collective is Recommended If You Like: Real-life journalists doggedly reporting on the worst of humanity

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Epidemiologists in the Pocket