When Romeo and Juliet lay eyes on each other across a crowded club, it is the proverbial love at first sight. Their whirlwind affair is quickly interrupted by the arrival of their baby son, and for a while they struggle through the early days of parenthood. When their son is two and a half they discover he has a large aggressive tumour and must be operated on. With support from their extended family they make it through the ordeal and he survives.
However they are then faced with the terrible reality that he has a rare form of cancer and a very low chance of surviving past the age of five. Romeo and Juliet both devote themselves entirely to their son’s survival: in the process they go broke and the next five years consist of living in the hospital with only fleeting moments of escapist joy.
This is a beautiful yet gruelllng, life-affirming yet grim, true story. Watching it, I did ask myself, who do you recommend to go see a film like this? I couldn’t imagine suggesting it to a mother of small children because it would be just too painful. And I couldn’t recommend it to those who go to the movies to escape life’s miseries. However if you are interested in real-life, painfully poignant stories that celebrate the human spirit, you will love this film.
The situation on which the story is based is in itself very moving and the way the couple deal with it: their love and dedication even more so. This story is bitter-sweet and as in real life there are trade-offs and sacrifices. Fortunately the entire film is peppered with gentle humour and wonderful observations. The extended family and the gathering of the clan in its various forms, supporting, celebrating, grieving, as families do, is so recognisable and is one of the film’s many delights.
The film’s style successfully conveys the intensity of what the lead characters are experiencing. From the outset, this young couple are frantically running or driving or catching a train, reflecting and symbolising not only the urgency, but the huge emotional turbulence they have to deal with. Then, after all that motion, there are some scenes of great stillness, immense tranquility and even slow drudgery. We feel the emotional lull, or exhaustion, the numbness after the intensity and frenzy, and the very identifiable (for anyone who has experienced the endless waiting for news in a hospital) simmering anxiety. We truly feel we have been on this journey with them.
In the narration the film makers observe they were running a marathon – they trained themselves to became fit and strong in order to deal with the adversity dealt them. This couple has enormous strength and they do what they have to, but it’s not without sacrifices. One wonders whether had they not both devoted themselves so wholly, and not both shared the burden simultaneously, but had taken separate roles, and continued other parts of their lives, perhaps some of the sacrifices would not have been necessary.