JAVIER CÁMARA AND RICARDO DARÍN IN TRUMAN Departure plans
, Cesc Gay's intermittently touching drama about death, Tomás (Javier Cámara), a Spaniard who now lives in Montreal, pays a surprise four-day visit to Madrid to see his old, close friend Julián (Ricardo Darín), an Argentine-born actor with terminal cancer who's decided to give up fighting it. The film covers that period from plane trip to plane trip. It's really not a fun visit but it's a true friend visit, with Tomás keeping Julián company and providing invaluable moral support as he plans for his demise. Both of these actors are impeccable, especially Darín, who has more to do. This certainly makes you think, particularly about friendship and love. But it winds up avoiding the toughest stuff. Confronting the true awfulness of dying with dignity and courage is another matter. Take a look at Michael Haneke's magnificent, wrenching Amour
for that. This is more like: Modern Dying for Dummies: the Preparation Stage.
It's a stretch to call this a comedy. It's just not a tragedy. Like any For Dummies
manual, it makes its lessons easy, so it softens the blows. To begin with, though Julián has terminal cancer, we never see him suffer, except a single moment of embarrassment. He even remains up and about the whole time - eating, drinking, smoking, even paying a quick trip to Amsterdam with Tomás (at the latter's expense) to visit his son Nico (Oriol Pla), a student there. This last visit is important, but most important, it seems, is finding another home for Julián's bull mastiff Truman, who is really not very long for this world himself, being a bit on the old side, but has for some time been Julián's closest companion.
Perhaps for some the idea that the most important matter for a dying man is how he can leave his dog behind may be funny - but for dog owners, not so much. Nonetheless Truman's sighs and droopy face were the only thing that really made me smile. The rest may touch on absurdity, but that's life (and death). There are fun times, but much of Tomás' visit is spent being dragged around making arrangements. Not much fun for Tomás, but more fun for us and Julián with
him. Cámara (notably of Almodóvar's Talk to Her
) has a calm, pleasant manner that's appropriately soothing and neutral in a way that seems kind, not cold. Maybe that's a Spanish thing.
Julián is not religious, and this is a present-day, secular, middle-class European approach to dying. He's therefore planning to end things before they get dicey, a decision that infuriates his sister Paula (Dolores Fonzi) when she learns of it. He is divorced, amicably, it seems, from his brief encounter with his ex-wife Gloria (Elvira Minguez). Julián is a practical, or at least honest, man, but he has not lived a sensible life. He's an actor, still in a play (though his longtime manager fires him, knowing his condition). He hasn't been sensible about money, and owes the comfortably-off Tomás money, but gets more from him now. Julián makes Tomás pay for taxis, the plane tickets, meals, everything, and Tomás leaves him a substantial sum to cover final expenses. He also accompanies Julián to visit a splendid undertaker's and talk to a perfectly suave salesman there ( Javier Gutierrez).
They also go to see Truman's vet (Alex Brendemuhl) to learn how he may handle "separation" psychologically. (Truman looks like he knows separation is coming, but he's one of those breeds that just look sad. And they go to the doctor (Pedro Casablanc), to notify him that he's not going to do any more chemo. One rather big thing has to stand for all the wrongdoing Julián may have to face. And since there is no Christianity in this story, there's no sense of sin and forgiveness. At a restaurant always with Tomás, Julián happens to run into Luís (Eduard Fernandez), whose wife he once slept with, ending the marriage. Pleasant surprise: Luís has learned of Julián's illness and offers graceful sympathy. It falls to Julián to apologize, belatedly, for his wife. But that's softened too: Luîs says it led to the good fortune of the present woman in his life. Imagine Haneke, or Bergman, letting the guy off this easy!
There are a couple of surprises at the end, more in the order of cute plott-manipulating than anything else. The real surprise is how touching a lot of this is. The drama is artificial, there is nothing cinematically exciting, but this movie does succeed in easing us into thinking about the need to face up to last things - some time. Truman
, 108 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2015; over a dozen other international festivals. French theatrical relese 6 Jul. 2016 (AlloCiné press rating a strong 3.6, viewers a stronger 4.0). In Spain, many awards. US release started 7 Apr. 2017; San Francisco Bay Area (Landmark) 14 Apr. 2017. Metacritic rating 78%.