Dying with dignity in Madrid

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Truman (MA). Director: Cesc Gay. Starring: Ricardo Darín, Javier Cámara, Dolores Fonzi. 109 minutes

We all have those friends; the ones where it seems like no matter how much time has passed between meetings, we are able to pick up exactly where we left off. From the moment that Julián (Darín) opens the door of his Madrid apartment to Tomás (Cámara), who has travelled from Canada where he now lives with his wife and children, we know we are witnessing such a friendship.

The almost silent greeting that the two men share — mouths turning irrevocably to smiles, eyes moistening with nostalgia and ever present fondness, the surprise visitor Tomás nodding almost imperceptibly — Yes, I am really here — exemplifies the understated drama, the warmness and sweetness that is characteristic of this Spanish drama.

Julián, we soon learn, is dying. Tomás, his lifelong friend, has been summoned to Barcelona by Julián's cousin Paula (Fonzi), presumably to talk some sense into Julián, who has decided to stop his treatment for terminal cancer. Tomás is undecided as to whether this trip is about blessing his friend's decision and saying goodbye, or persuading him to try to squeeze a few more years out of his life.

For four brief days he accompanies Julián to a number of appointments and meetings as the latter tries to set his affairs in order; he informs his doctor of his decision, interviews a funeral practitioner about available options, and, most importantly, seeks to make arrangements for his other best friend, his burly bull mastiff Truman.

The history of these two men is not explored in detail, but it is sensed vividly in the easy intimacy and reflexive humour that they share — testament to the quality of the writing and of the performances of the two leads. This is true too of Tomás and Paula, whose affection for each other is felt (but not shown, at least at first) to embody rather more than friendship.

Dolores Fonzi, Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara in TrumanThey are the ones who will survive to feel the pain of Julián's passing, and they disagree as to how to persuade him to change his mind. Paula is defiant, even angry; Tomás' accompaniment is instead one of quiet grace, his objections gentler in tone but not intent.

 

"The film is not precisely pro euthanasia, nothing as heavy handed as that. We are as sympathetic to Paula raging against her cousin's resignation, as we are to Tomás growing acceptance."

 

Both are unequivocally rebuffed by Julián, who quite simply has made up his mind.

The film's quiet humour leaves open many spaces for reflection on getting older, and on mortality. Tomás is uncomfortable with the subject of death, but Julián is determined to confront it with honesty and dignity. The film is not precisely pro euthanasia, nothing as heavy handed as that. We are as sympathetic to Paula raging against her cousin's resignation, as we are to Tomás' growing acceptance.

At the same time it is utterly non-judgemental of Julián, leaving space for viewers to decide for themselves how they choose to judge his choices. Certainly his activities during those four days reveal he possesses a well formed conception of his own humanity and mortality that is not short of admirable.

Out for lunch with Tomás, he notices that a man and woman whom he knows well are sitting at a nearby table, and have chosen to pretend they don't see him. To Tomás' chagrin Julián confronts them, frankly but not forcefully: I am here. I am dying, but I am not dead. Say hello. Later Julián is visibly touched when, in another restaurant, another friend, whom he has badly betrayed years previously, says hello and that he's sorry about what Julián is going through.

Most poignantly, after a random 4am phone call to Tomás' hotel room, the dying man signs off with 'I love you,' and hangs up without waiting for a reply. Such moments of grace and emotional truth lie at the heart of this beautiful film.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is acting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Truman, Cesc Gay, Ricardo Darín, Javier Cámara, Dolores Fonzi

 

 

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Existing comments

Dylan Thomas wrote: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." And in "An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow" Les Murray tells us: "not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow/hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea -/and when he stops, he simply walks between us/mopping his face with the dignity of one/man who has wept, and now has finished weeping." Sounds very much like a beautiful film.
Pam | 18 August 2016


Yes, Pam. And what about 'Try a little tenderness'? This film seems to do just that, a counter to the harsh dualism of our current legalisation debate. It's about compassion and respect for the decisions of the person. Let's get that right at the beginning. Thanks, Tim.
Joan Seymour | 18 August 2016


I'm sure it's set in Madrid not Barcelona. .(I guess it was just part funded by the Catalan Government.) And it is a beautiful film.
rolandm | 19 August 2016


A true gem of a film. Tim's review highlights many of the insights it reveals. It was helpful in expressing ways friends of persons with terminal illness could act with dignity and support. Julian's words"I am here, I am dying, but I am not dead." resonate in my own head as we walk beside a much loved friend recently diagnosed as having a couple of months to live. Thanks once again to a fine discerning film reviewer Tim and a sensitive film director for an uplifting story.
Celia | 19 August 2016


Roland - You are quite correct, and I've amended the review. Thanks, and apologies for the error.
Tim Kroenert | 19 August 2016


Euthanasia [even though canonised recently by Hans Kung as a viable option] reeks too much still of Nazi Aktion T4 with heroic opposition by Blessed Cardinal Von Galen Hitler raged:"The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I shall extract retribution to the last farthing. And, if he does not succeed in getting himself transferred in the meanwhile to the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts, no “T” will remain uncrossed, no “I” undotted!" Unknown. Hitler's Table Talk (Kindle Locations 10276-10279). Ostara Publications. Kindle Edition.
Father John George | 20 August 2016


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