Eye For Film >> Movies >> Dormant Beauty (2012) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Following a car accident, Eluana Englaro lay in a coma for 17 years. Doctors who assessed her described her as being in a persistent vegetative state, doomed never to awaken, but of course there were many who campaigned to keep her alive, whether in hope of a miracle or simply because they felt that what life she had left must be preserved. In February 2009, the decision was made to remove her feeding tube and allow her to die naturally. A court battle ensued, with the matter going all the way to parliament, exposing a deeply divided nation.
Set during the last few days of Englaro's life, Dormant Beauty expands beyond the central case to look at myriad issues around coma, caring, bereavement, euthanasia, suicide and choice. It interweaves several different stories, sometimes seeming off the point but all eventually bringing us back to the same place. There's the politician wrestling with his conscience as he prepares to vote on Englaro's fate; his religiously-inspired daughter campaigning for her survival; a young man caring for a manic-depressive brother who passionately believes she should be free to die. An actress has set aside her whole life to care for her comatose daughter; her son wishes his sister could die to set his mother free. An addict wants to end her life; a doctor is determined to save her, even against her will. Meanwhile, Englaro's slow starvation means nobody can escape from awareness of their mortality.
A refreshingly mature, non-adversarial take on its subject, Dormant Beauty sees several characters forced to question the rigidity of their beliefs and to recognise the sincere motives of those with opposing views. It presents a realistic picture of how tough life as a carer can be, even for those lucky enough to have extensive support, and it questions conventional narratives around care, including the social obligation placed on carers to completely set aside their own desires whilst remaining available to others. It also explores the fetishisation of comatose women, perfect as the idols of moral crusades because their celebrated innocence cannot be sullied by anything as awkward as a voice. The parallel tale of the addict sees beauty compromised by aggressive sexuality and cruel humour, and so serves to remind us that all these ill women are human, that helping a human being is both emotionally and morally challenging; that Englaro, no matter what might be best for her, has personhood.
This might all sound rather heavy, and indeed it is, but it's elevated by poetic styling and beautiful cinematography. Actors in minimal make-up move through landscapes that seem to glow. Scenes in a steam bath recall the Rome of ancient times and combine with an occasionally operatic score to remind us that the film's themes are much older than modern medical science. Ultimately life-affirming, though not in the ways you might expect, Dormant Beauty seems to be saying that it's time we all woke up to one another.Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2013
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