Spanish actor Javier Cámara (Tomas) and Argentine actor Ricardo Darin (Julián ) co-star in Truman a rare gem of a movie from Spain now showing at cinemas in Australia, is a lesson for us all about leaving life with grace.
Winner of the 2016 Spanish Academy (Goya) Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ricardo Darin) Best Supporting Actor (Javier Cámara) and Best Screenplay Truman the movie was also Winner 2016 Gaudi Awards, Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Ricardo Darin) Best Supporting Actor (Javier Cámara) and Best Screenplay as well as Winner 2015 San Sebastian Film Festival Best Actors Shared (Darin and Cámara shared) and the official selection for the 2015 Toronto, San Sebastian, BFI London International Film Festivals.
With such accolades before us and critics raving it may seem hard to be objective. However I chose not to read any of their testimonials, seeking to have a fresh experience of Truman at my local Palace Cinema, and found that it really does live up to all the hype building about it.
Also, the subject it addresses, one that has been in the news much this week in Australia – euthanasia, an ethical issue of our times, especially in countries like Spain, Canada and Australia where until the modern age the population was almost exclusively brought up in a strict religious framework for centuries, with suicide assisted or not under the law, certainly not generally acceptable.
The actors are both truly superb and the film deserves not only all the awards it has won to date, but also consideration due to the way it is handled, with quiet passion and in a way that is refreshingly straightforward and empathetic.
Please don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
Tomas and Julián were inseparable best friends in childhood, but like us all they found they had to grow up and learn to live, love and spend much of their life apart, simply because circumstances meant they ended up living in different countries.
Now living in wintery Canada, Tomas takes the flight back to Madrid in Spain to have one last visit with his friend Julián, who is a much-loved actor in the theatre facing his final curtain bravely, resolutely and on the inside, quite alone.
Julián is learning how to die.
He has incurable cancer, which his beloved son, ex wife, favourite cousin and best friend Tomas all know about. However, up until now he has been fighting it and so there has always been hope and they have all staved off coming to terms with it.
Now Julián has decided that he wants to stop having any form of medication, making the decision without any form of consultation with any of them. He wants to go out on his own terms.
Julián is surprised when Tomas unexpectedly arrives from overseas and knocks on his door, having booked into a hotel a few buildings away. He’s there to stay for four days as being a religious man himself; he cannot understand Julián’s decision and his wife has urged him to come and talk to him first hand.
Basically he really wants to change his friend’s mind. However, after spending time and talking with him for the first 24 hours while working through his own awkwardness with the situation, he is forced to come to terms with his friend’s decision.
He finds himself unwillingly at first, admiring and respecting what his friend has decided and also determines at some point, they will spend their remaining time together making more happy memories.
His timing is impeccable too, because Julián also needs him to help with his quest to find a home for his companion of many years, his truly best friend of all, the large Staffordshire terrier with soulful all seeing brown eyes named Truman. He is the only being Julián has been able to give his love and devotion too for a long time, because all his human relationships except his one with Tomas and perhaps his cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi), have all failed.
Truman his best doggy pal unlike the humans in his life, gives his master his unconditional love; despite every slight, betrayal or every black mood that Julián displays, he is always there faithfully at his side.
This is in essence a sublimely realised and superbly acted movie.
It has an intelligent script by Tomás Aragay and Cesc Gay, two of Spain’s best actors in the main roles, a brilliant companion cast in support of them both and a story beautifully observed and sensitively directed by Cesc Gay (above).
Packed with pathos, as Julián runs the gamut of his emotions, so do we.
Mesmerising and thought provoking, the gentle balance act between cheerfulness and philosophical pondering by Julián is handled by the Director in a slightly amusing way.
It could just as easily have descended into being maudlin, which he never lets happen because just as he seems on the verge of it, he snaps it back to reality and moves on.
Walking the streets of Madrid together Tomas and Julián have an easy connection, one that speaks of their long acquaintance and intimate knowledge of each other and their temperaments.
It is also about their acceptance of how their lives have panned out, meaning long separations which only makes the getting back together again far more poignant, especially for this one last time.
Tomas while Julián is on an errand walks Truman to the park and is suddenly surrounded by people who know the dog, not the man, bringing home the point of how easy it is to make new acquaintances when you own a furry pal.
He also meets up with an Paula (Dolores Fonzi), Julián’s cousin and closest friend, who is not handling the situation at all, seeing her relative’s decision as being harder on his nearest and dearest than on him, a truly selfish response.
She’s making it all about herself, not the one she loves at all, and there will be a reckoning that will be harder for her in the end unless she comes to terms with what he wants and accepts it.
I loved the scenes of Julián on stage at the theatre in period dress, starring in a comedy with his friends watching on, not envying but rather admiring his ability to slip into another role, one that gives the audience of people he doesn’t know, a great deal of happiness.
Tomas feels deeply for his friend, who is also being ignored by people in public who know him as they don’t know how to speak to him, knowing he’s terminally ill. He’s struggling himself, but instead of anger, only provides a steady patient presence, one that is very comforting.
When Tomas asks about Julián’s son Nico (Oriol Pla), who is at university in Amsterdam, he discovers that while Nico knows about Julián having cancer, he hasn’t told him about the ‘final’ decision.
Julián wants to spare him the pain, but is desperate to see him one last time and so makes an instant decision that they should both hop on a plane to visit him. Taken aback at first, Tomas agrees and just goes with the flow paying their way, because his friend is entirely strapped for cash having been ill now for a few years.
So off they go to the city of canals and stunning seventeenth century terrace style houses, whose charm and appeal only grows visually more appealing with the passing years.
The son is confronted, but delighted to see his father and invites Julián and Tomas to lunch with he and his girlfriend at a café nearby the university where laughter and talking about their hopes for the future becomes the topic, with Julián unable to tell his only son the truth.
Tomas watches on accepting his best friend’s frailty without saying a word, and when it’s time for them to leave Julián’s son enfolds his father in a huge embrace, one that speaks to the son knowing this is the last time he will hold his father in his arms.
And he whispers adios…farewell.
Watching this movie, especially looking at the built environmental beauty and romance of the city of Amsterdam it’s hard not to admire how much Europeans hold onto their heritage, believing that the past does help you define the future, whereas we readily knock ours down and can feel as if we have nowhere now to go. It is about having that place to be.
But then they have had to fight hard and on homeground to secure their homes over centuries of time, and their bricks and mortar have become integral to their character and their dreams of all their tomorrows.
Back home in Madrid, Tomas goes along with Julián as he makes arrangements for his funeral in a business-like manner and the scenes with Javier Gutierrez featuring as a briskly efficient mortuary sales representative, are too delightful given the subject matter.
They also meet up with Julián’s ex wife, who tells him in a very matter of fact way that she has taken it upon herself to inform their son of his decision, knowing his inability to do so.
It makes that last hug that he gave his father all the more poignant and special for Julián. We can see that he is relieved the decision was taken out of his hands.
Now he, Paula and Tomas can spend their last night together happily.
After they all say goodnight, Tomas and Paula find solace in their sadness together, knowing they will never all be together again.
Julián has been agonizing about what to do with Truman. While he and Tomas have interviewed some interesting and challenging prospective owners over the last few days, none of them have seemed quite right.
By now we too have realised that only when Julián can accept taking leave of Truman, will he really be serious about taking leave of his own life.
With Tomas’s departure imminent that deadline has now arrived.
Dolores Fonzi as Julian’s deeply concerned but not infinitely patient cousin and Jose Luis Gomez as the theatrical producer who reluctantly fires Julian from his final acting gig, are cameo standouts in the supporting cast.
Reluctant as he may be to do so, Truman often steals the show with just a glance.
Saying farewell to his furry best friend for Julián is really all about taking leave of life.
After their time together it is at the airport that Julián hands the lead to Tomas and quietly tells him he has made all the arrangements for Truman to go on the flight with him and to clear customs, the perfect solution that will allow Julián to die in peace.
His friend is completely accepting of his decision.
For Tomas the four days they have spent together has become his own final closing of a door on the life he used to have back in Spain.
We can only predict that Truman will help Tomas through his grief, and that on his return home to Canada and his own wife and family, he will enjoy a new beginning, one that will always hold bittersweet memories of his very special friend Julián in his heart.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
4.5/5 – in a word, stunning.
Watch the Trailer