“What you are about to watch is a story that happened to me and I present it in the way I know best.”Hector Babenco
Directed by Hector Babenco
Written by Hector Babenco
Starring Willem Dafoe and Maria Fernanda Cândido
Hector Babenco brings us his final, heartbreaking film; My Hindu Friend (2015), a semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical film reflecting Babenco’s fight with lymphoma. This is not a beautiful, inspiring story about a martyr undeservingly suffering, nor is it a story of redemption, instead this is just the story of cancer. A story of the reality of a life threatening illness, the pain, the anger, the nihilism, the bargaining and the destruction and building of relationships that are made along the journey.
Babenco’s exploration of the cancer journey rings true and is easily relatable to anyone who as lived through a similar experience. The hospital with the constant in and out of doctors, the intense pain, the terrifying treatments, the family that lives in your room, showering in horrid bathrooms that are no longer a safe haven but a constant reminder of the sickness, there is no sleep, and a complete lack of privacy. Cancer is indiscriminate just as death is indiscriminate in that it effects everyone from the wealthy to the poor, the old and young, the feeble and the fit. It is one of few things that wealth cannot protect you from. This is highlighted when the wealthy charity dinner goers come to visit the cancer patient, Diego Fairman (Wilhelm Dafoe), and are fascinated by the prospect;
“I told them a friend of mine had died and been resuscitated. They were just so excited. They were dying to meet you.”
“What is it like there? Anything you can tell us?”
Babenco also explores the strange time that exists between knowing you are going to die and dying. It is a peculiar time in which no one around you knows what to say. They are unable to talk about the inevitable, yet it is your reality and therefore you make ill received jokes. We see this when Diego Fairman asks about the champagne he is drinking and one of guests says it is his wedding present to him;
“It was my wedding present.”
“Oh, not my farewell present?”
Speaking of the wedding, the wedding scene, where Diego’s friends and family are sitting around drinking, smoking, telling inappropriate stories, and staying longer than they should, reflects the bizarre gatherings you have when you are not sure you will see someone again. The truths that should be spoken aloud are whispered, hidden in dark corners, while the truths that should remain unspoken, are said allowed, brightly lit for all to see.
No one is filmed in their best light – this is reality, not a feel good film filmed with a rose-coloured lens and nice sentiments. My Hindu Friend forces us to hear truths not often heard;
“I want you to know that if one of us had to die, I’d rather it was me, not you.”
“Truth is, if one of us is going to die, it is going to be me not you. I’ll tell you another thing, you are lying. If one of us has to die, I’d rather it was you, not me.”
We hope that at the end of our life we pick ourselves to die. We hope we choose to suffer to stop our friends and family from suffering. However, the brutal truth of it is, we pick life. Every time.
“I want to stay alive.”
The film also explores what happens when you do not die as expected. What do you do?What do your friends and family do? And how do you just keep on living?
Willem Dafoe is absolutely heartbreakingly. He has this ability to play both strong and subtle emotions and have them written on his face for all to read. He is also able to portray anger and fear in a weak and feeble body, a body without the strength to be passionate. His body, in itself, is hauntingly inhuman and terrifying, personifying our fears of cancer.
However, other characters do not hit the mark. Lines are flat and lifeless, characters are under developed and feel forced. Even Diego has little character development. The only real change that seems to occur is that he can finally maintain an erection. The story drags, as life does, leaving us wondering when it is going to end?
The title suggests Babenco wanted to make a film about the relationship he makes with a young Hindu boy who he meets when they undergo treatment at the same time, however Babenco, like Diego, gets caught up in himself, and the relationship, disappointingly, takes a back seat in the film.
With dramatic irony, as if death finally comes to collect, Babenco died the year after the films release.
My Hindu Friend (2015) is stark expose into the cancer journey. It rips off the rose-coloured lens, often used to portray cancer, showing the horrible reality that it is. It is a far from perfect film, however Dafoe really shines.
My Hindu Friend is avaliable on Amazon Prime and other streaming services, DVD and Blu Ray.
Images provided by TriCoast Studios and Rock Salt Releasing.