Oscar-nominated documentary Collective follows a determined journalistic investigation into a riveting and terrifying scandal. It’s a stunning achievement, writes Matt Glasby – if you ever wondered what speaking truth to power really looks like, look no further.
Written, directed, produced and edited by Alexander Nanau, this remarkable documentary has already earned its place in cinema history. Not only is it the first Romanian film to be nominated for an Oscar, it’s also up for two rarely connected categories: Best Documentary and Best International Feature. Yet a quick glance at the synopsis—which concerns a newspaper journalist investigating a public healthcare scandal—might make you wonder what all the fuss is about.
On 30 October 2015, a fire in the Bucharest nightclub Colectiv—shown via some extremely distressing mobile phone footage—killed 64 people and injured hundreds more. But why did those with comparatively minor burns keep dying once they’d been admitted to hospital? As the survivors search for answers, journalist Catalin Tolontan and his colleagues at the Sports Gazette start an investigation that uncovers endemic government corruption.
With his rumpled shirts and hang-dog demeanour, Tolontan makes an unlikely hero, but his determination to sniff out the truth is genuinely inspiring. Nanau, meanwhile, manages to be at his side for every major twist and turn, while also making the minutiae, the late nights, cold coffee and bleary-eyed confessions, fascinating on their own terms.
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Halfway through, the film introduces us to Vlad Voiculescu, the new minister of health, who’s determined to purge the system from within. Somehow, Nanau manages to inveigle his way into these meetings too, even though the findings seem to spell professional ruin for all concerned. “How the hell can all this be solved?” asks Voiculescu, another unlikely hero in a country that surely needs them.
The result is, quite simply, a stunning achievement. Nanau’s access is extraordinary, his storytelling unerring, and like Tolontan and Voiculescu, he never loses his nerve. If you ever wondered what speaking truth to power really looks like, look no further.