Truman

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Javier Camara and Ricardo Darin in Truman
"Gay challenges the usual cliches of disease films."

Cesc Gay's warm drama Truman proves that not all films about terminal cancer need to end in a flood of tears with a character bald and gasping for breath (although if that is more your cup of tea then Freeheld - which it competed against in San Sebastian - is the film for you). There may be the need for hankie by the end but the tears are born from a deeper sense of impending loss rather than simple pity.

The casting of Argentinian and Spanish heavyweights Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara in the lead roles is inspired, not just because of their box office draw in their respective countries - the film is currently performing solidly in Argentina - but because of their ability to move between drama and comedy with a smoothness that stops us seeing the join. This, married to thoughtful and observant scripting from Gay and Tomàs Aragay, results in unexpected moments of bittersweet humour and pathos that feel organic rather than organised for our benefit.

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Darín is Julián, an actor in Madrid in the late stages of the Big C. His childhood friend Tomás (Cámara) returns from the wilds of Canada for a surprise four-day visit and the film charts what happens. Truman, in case you were wondering, is Julián's dog and his bid to find the animal a new home provides an unforced metaphor for the theme of loss. If all this grief sounds like a wallow, Gay makes sure we keep laughing in the face of death. From Julián's ability to extract cash from Tomás at almost every turn to his friend's dry ripostes, this is a bracingly funny and convincing examination of a relationship that keeps the long-term friendship in the foreground even if thoughts of death are close by.

Gay also challenges the usual cliches of disease films, showing Julián as a man with a lust for life and for decision making but also exploring the fact that dying is as much about the person who is ill grieving for what they are about to lose as it is about those who live on. As Julián puts it, "Each person dies as best they can". The way that attitudes shift is illustrated by two very different restaurant confrontations between Julián and old acquaintances. In one, he condemns the attitude of others - "they smell death and get scared" - but in the other he finds surprising absolution, with both encounters advancing the argument that being aware of your impending death helps you see what is important.

Cámara has the less showy role, but the emotions of Tomás are no less complex, despite an unecessary romance-edged subplot with Julián's cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi) that feels out of keeping with his character. 'Mainstream' is often treated like a dirty word, but Gay shows that it's possible to entertain a crowd and say something significant.

Reviewed on: 08 Oct 2015
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A terminally ill man spends four days with an old friend.
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