A documentary on cancer treatment may not be your first choice for an evening at the movies. Still, it should be, because Claudiu Mitcu's Rețeaua/The Network is an eye-opening look at a largely unknown medical and human drama. Having had its premiere in June at Transilvania International Film Festival, The Network is currently screened at Elvira Popescu cinema (77 Dacia Blvd.) and today's show at 7pm is not only free, but also in the presence of the director and his crew.
In Romania, cancer patients have limited or no access to proper medication for treating cancer, the so-called cytostatic drugs, being sentenced to an almost-certain death if their treatment is incomplete or done with a delay in medication. In the past decade, the only way to get these drugs has been through the so-called “cytostatic network“: its members based in Western Europe or travelling there would buy the medicine and bring or send it back to Romania with the help of acquaintances, relatives or friends. The network is supposed to have approximately 250 members at the moment while the value of the acquired pills reaches 60,000 euros. The most remarkable thing about the network is that none of its members make a profit by transporting the drugs; in many cases the persons in the west cover the costs themselves. Since transporting drugs for the personal use is allowed, it is also a fairly 'legal' affair.
Based on an investigation by HotNews journalist Vlad Mixich, Mitcu's documentary follows the way of the cytostatics from pharmacies in Vienna and Hungary to their patients in Romania, focusing on a few of the people involved in the 'traffic', from 'transporters' to cancer patients.
As it is often the case with documentaries and especially with such an emotionally explosive topic, the theme overshadows the form and The Network will be mostly judged by its content and less by its cinematic achievements, a reaction clearly noticeable at the film's TIFF premiere. Which is to the film's benefit, however, since it does a fine job at portraying the people and social and moral aspects involved, and especially a brave one (to my knowledge the issue hasn't been tackled before on film), but as a documentary it is not particularly innovative despite some interesting aesthetic choices. Overall it is a moving, gripping tale but such a slight running time (approximately 60 minutes) can only cover some of the problem's implications and history. A more encompassing approach, both on a personal and a state level, would be very welcome as well.
Earnest, empathetic and most of all necessary, The Network deserves a large audience and most of all a serious impact. Ideally it should be a catalyst for a public discussion on the matter and a change in the medical system but while the latter is certainly a more challenging affair, the former is not impossible. And desperately needed.
by Ioana Moldovan, columnist, email@example.com