Nowadays, death and disease take place in an extraterritorial realm, removed to the hospital where they can’t be seen by the healthy. From this hermetically sealed world, known only to patients, visitors and staff, it’s rare to receive a message that allows us to see our existence from a new perspective. The Lithuanian director Arunas Matelis has made a film about a children’s cancer unit in Vilnius that succeeds in doing precisely this. It focuses on a 12-year-old boy and accompanies him for a time, from his arrival at the hospital and the humiliating procedure of having his head shaved, to the days following his bone-marrow transplant. The result of the operation remains uncertain; but in the final sequence, we see a human being who wishes only to die. By then, we’ve experienced his love of life, captured in moments that only children can bring into being: we see him playing games in which he loses himself completely, sharing his thoughts and feelings about his sickness, the future, his friends and his parents; and we hear his mother’s aching description of the changes in her child since the illness took hold. This is a stylistically simple yet deeply moving piece of cinema. In its strongest moments, it transforms into pure poetry the quotidian reality of the clinic and its daily transactions with deadly disease. Though the film never once denies the proximity of death, its final effect is extraordinarily consoling.
(Catalogue DOK Leipzig)
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