Bucharest - Romania : in the film ''Collective,'' - a fatal fire and a totally toppled health system are revisited in pain and terrible anguish.

On Oct 30, 2015, a fire ripped through a nightclub in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, leaving 64 people dead. Almost six years later, a documentary about the fire and its tragic aftermath has been nominated for two Oscars.

It would be the first Oscar win for the Eastern European country, but the film's success is bittersweet for many Romanians, given its painful subject matter - particularly since many believe not enough has changed since 2015.

''COLLECTIVE'' which has been nominated for best documentary feature and best foreign film, follows a group of investigative journalists from a sports newspaper, as they uncover painful truths about the Romanian health care.

The situation was so appalling that basically it should have been a scandal in the whole of Europe,'' said Alexander Nanau, the film's director.

Events on the night of the fire and its immediate aftermath ricocheted across Romania, toppling the government at the time - led by the Social Democratic Party - and mobilizing civil society into large scale protests.

In the years since, however, there have been further political scandals, and few health care overhauls. The coronavirus pandemic has also put huge new demands on the struggling Romanian health care system. Two fires in Covid-19 wards in the last six months have left at least 20 people dead.

Many Romanians wonder how much has really changed since ''Collective.'' While tragic, the nightclub fire is just the film's starting point.

The blaze claimed 27 lives in its immediate aftermath, but 64 people would ultimately die, many of them victims of a health care system awash with corruption and willing to hide painful truths from the victims and their families.

Standing outside one of Bucharest's main hospitals, Nanau recalled : ''It was was basically in front of this hospital where the minister of health always stood flanked by doctors saying : ''We can treat the burn victims at the highest standards.''

However, as the journalists found that, the burn unit was not even operational at the time, Nanau said. ''It's incredible that they have the guts to lie to all these people that their kids are being given surgery in the most modern burn unit, when in fact this was closed.

The journalists also discovered that the disinfectant used in hospitals across the country was being watered down, to the extent that it was largely ineffectual, which probably resulted in many more deaths. The owner of the company involved drove his car into a tree after the truth was brought to light, killing himself.

The documentary shows in real time the reaction of the journalists after a whistleblower sends them footage from a hospital showing maggots crawling in the wound of a burn victim.

The film has been compared with both ''Spotlight'' and ''All the President's Men'' and in a review for The New York Times late last year, Manohla Dargis described ''Collective'' as a ''staggering documentary'' that offered ''no moment when you can take an easy breath, assured that the terrible things you've been watching onscreen are finally over.''

For people in Romania, however, much of what is shown onscreen is very, very painfully familiar.

The World Students Society thanks author Kit Gillet.


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