Review-Lite: Collective (2020)

Mirela Neag and Catalin Tolontan in Collective

While hatred and rage are feelings encouraged in film, in fiction its always to serve a purpose, to curry favour for a certain character, to place you in a place of distress, it serves a purpose. Alexander Nanau’s Romanian documentary Collective makes your blood boil constantly throughout its run while hiding its true meaning. Collective follows the political upheaval following a fire in a nightclub called Colectiv and the subsequent investigation into the corruption that allows it to take place in the first place and the lives lost afterwards because of it. Lauded as one of the ultimate journalism films, Collective for the most part feels like an investigation into the clear cut inhumanity of the money hungry in a poor country, how power and greed can strip us of our morals so much that we can actively sacrifice people just to keep a little bit of wealth. The reporters chronicling this story, writing for a sports newspaper unable to stand by and watch, aren’t the other side of the coin, the yin to corruption’s yang, instead they are the Romanian voice of desperation. Think Peter Finch in Network screaming to the heavens for something to change. These are people who are not going to take it anymore, not heroes in a movie but realists hunting for truth, not justice. It’s a bleak, stark picture being painted here and one where nobody is thinking of heroes and villains, just truth and lies. But that’s only one half of the brilliant Collective.

The second half of Nanau’s film follows the new Health Minister, a man tasked with overhauling a system that allowed so many people to die following the fire. He is both an idealist and a proud man who has absolved himself of what happened before, he is only here to change things, make them better. At first glance, he is the hope the film needs, the light on the horizon. But this is Nanau’s grey clouded nightmare, one that has you cling to possibilities while backpedaling on them. Collective wants you to know that despite your sympathies and good intentions in the moment, you’re still powerless, a naive fantasist not living in the real world. Hope isn’t the good guy here. Nanau breeds cynicism but with a reason. The real enemy here is complacency. If both sides of his feature say one thing and one thing alone its that corruption breeds because of our own ignorance and in a way we only have ourselves to blame. Collective makes you angry for what seems to be no good reason, a festering hatred for facts too shocking to believe but it isn’t until the final moments that this anger finally gives way to something else, an untapped well of guilt and the question becomes, who’s the true guilty parties here. Is it the politicians who allow it to happen, the journalists who investigate after the fact or us, the people too busy or ignorant to care until its pushed under our noses? If one thing stuck with me, it’s the guilt. I think that answers my question.


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