Necrobusiness (Directors: Richard Solarz, Fredrik von Krusenstjerna): Business is booming for the undertakers of Lodz, Poland. Thanks to an ingenious scheme, a couple of them have cornered the market on burials. That is, until the plot begins to unravel and they turn on each other. In this unique film, we follow the journalist Monika Sieradzka as she uncovers more and more layers of this lucrative and ultimately chilling conspiracy. As the film begins, nebbishy hospital mortician Jacek Tomalski is on trial for attempting to hire a hit man to kill his rival, Witold Skrzydlewski, two-time city councillor and owner of a chain of funeral homes, flower shops and mortuaries. Then a third man, the mysterious Wlodec Sumera is implicated in the conspiracy. Ostensibly a florist, he looks more like a trained assassin, though his role is never quite clear.
Sieradzka begins to find more dirt the more she digs. She uncovers a huge system, whereby Skrzydlewski pays off paramedics to deliver bodies directly to him, bypassing the hospital morgues. Due to generous government funeral subsidies, the funeral homes are also likely to benefit by having bereaved families sign over these payments directly to them. As the film goes on, it gets even worse, as evidence is uncovered that some paramedics were poisoning patients in their ambulances to raise the body count. Additionally, an ambulance dispatcher is implicated for delaying ambulances in order to increase the chances of deaths occurring.
Although our sympathies lie with Tomalski at the beginning, especially since he seems to be the victim of police entrapment, we come to discover that the two men were once close, and that both had been profiting off the system for years before they had a falling out. By the end, there are no good guys left, and the prosecutions are still ongoing. Estimates of the number of suspicious deaths top 20,000, so the local courts will be busy for many years to come.
There are some flourishes in the filmmaking, including gorgeous black and white animated opening and closing title sequences, a jaunty soundtrack, and a ludicrous number of crane shots. Yes, this film might be the first time I was even aware of a crane shot in a documentary. However, not as much attention was paid to some of the basics of structuring the film. Viewers are thrown into the story headlong, and are not given any indication who the female journalist is, or who she works for. There is a female voiceover in English, which is from her perspective, but it’s doubtful it’s actually her speaking. I also felt that the bravura cinematographical touches clashed with the more conservative shots of the courtroom material.
Nonetheless, Necrobusiness may have you thinking about making your funeral arrangements early. And as the deceptively charming Skrzydlewski jokes in one scene, you may want to remember to tip your paramedic well if you ever have the misfortune to be in an ambulance.