Collective (2019) Review
Directors: Alexander Nanau
Screenwriters: Alexander Nanau, Antoaneta Opriș
Starring: Cătălin Tolontan, Vlad Voiculescu, Tedy Ursuleanu
Nominated for both Best Documentary and Best International Feature at the 2021 Oscars, Collective is one of only a few documentaries to have ever been nominated in a second category by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and is only the second documentary to have also been nominated for Best International Feature. The achievements of Collective at the Oscars alone speak volumes about both the film’s quality and its importance.
After a fire breaks out at the popular nightclub, Colectiv, in Bucharest, the film follows a group of journalists as they begin to investigate the suspicious deaths of victims months after the fire. Scratching beneath the surface, the journalists uncover years of political corruption that span the entire country. The story continues to unravel up until the final minutes – the further into the film’s runtime we get, the deeper the corruption goes.
Such a story alone is enough to have anyone who comes across it gripped, playing out as though it were an investigative journalist film à la All the President’s Men. Yet Collective’s hook is that it is real. The constant reminder that Collective is in fact… fact, and not fiction, making it all the more impactful.
The beauty of a documentary film is its ability to capture the most breathtaking and interesting stories. The works of famed documentarians such as D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles Brothers are prime examples of the genius behind capturing such stories, and Collective belongs alongside them in this highest of categories.
The use of footage from the Colectiv fire, as well clips and photographs of the disgusting conditions in which burn victims were treated in, are perhaps the most excellent uses of archival footage within the film, gruesomely encapsulating the horror of the situation. Meanwhile, the original footage captured by Alexander Nanau is equally outstanding, creating visually striking imagery for the film whilst also capturing the most amazing moments of the story.
As for the way in which the story is told, Collective is told through three sub-plots: Cătălin Tolontan and his team’s investigation of the story; Vlad Voiculescu’s position as the new Minister of Health; and the story of Tedy Ursuleanu, one of the victims of the Colectiv fire. Cătălin Tolontan’s narrative is one of incredible journalistic integrity, telling the tale from the people’s point of view. Vlad Voiculescu’s story is one of the few good guys in politics, showing that change can happen from the inside. Tedy Ursuleanu’s story shows both how the victims were affected and how they have moved on.
Each narrative is important and adds something special to the film, though the story of Ursuleanu unfortunately can affect the movie’s pacing and generally feels out of place amongst the other two stories.
Despite this slight issue with pacing and focus, Collective captures an incredible story in the most breathtaking way. There is no doubt that Collective will go down in history as one of the best and one of the most important documentaries of all time. This Romanian documentary is already a record breaker, but it’s also a safe bet to win the Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars and is one of the primary must-see projects highlighted at this year’s ceremony.
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