Exposing Corruption

There is a bitter irony in the title of Alexander Nanau’s documentary, Collective. It gives the impression of unity, working together for the greater good, perhaps. But the moment this story unfolds, it becomes clear that little is harmonious or pulling in the same direction. This is the story of systemic corruption on a horrifying scale. The setting may be Romania, but there are doubtless many governments in many countries that are equally culpable of such horrors.

As the opening credits explain, the film takes place in the aftermath of a 2015 fire at a Bucharest nightclub – called ‘Colectiv’. That night, 27 people died – and there is some frightening footage early on from what looks like inside the club, as flames began to sweep through the roof. Worse still – if possible – was what came next. Those who were severely injured were rushed to local hospitals, but a further 37 died after contracting infections that were easily treatable.

If there is a hero in this story, it comes in the shape of C?t?lin Tolontan, a reporter working for – of all papers – Sports Gazette. It is he who begins to pick away at the festering scab, gradually discovering that the reason for these infections stems from the disinfectant used in the hospitals. The substance has been diluted – thus proving ineffective against bacteria. Tolontan’s investigations leads him to the company Hexi Pharma and its owner Dan Condrea, who sold the sub-standard substance to hospitals to increase profits.

Moreover, it transpires that Condrea was not alone, that hospital officials from all over the country were involved and pocketing kickbacks. Nanau’s film, using a fly-on-the-wall verité style, simply observes as Tolontan and others unearth this deadly scam that runs right to the top of government. What results is a film that feels something like Spotlight, the Oscar-winning movie about sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Constructed in the same forensic manner, it’s a tribute to honest investigative reporting.

Yet Collective goes beyond this. Also featured is Tedy Ursuleanu, one of the victims of the fire who suffered severe burns and the loss of her hand; she has since become something of a symbol of survival and resilience. And as the film moves into its second half, attention turns to the new Minister of Health, Vlad Voiculescu, who wants reform and transparency in his operations. His earnestness in meeting with victims or family members is to be applauded, but darker forces lurk. Collective is a terrifying example of what happens when the system rots from the inside.

Collective is available on demand from 20 November. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

Still from Collective.