Friday, 6 May 2016

Be Here Now: Film Review

Be Here Now: Film Review

Cast: Andy Whitfield, Vashti Whitfield
Director: Lilibet Foster

There can't be anyone who's not been touched by cancer in some form or another.

And there have been countless stories and films about the perils of cancer and the insidious nature of the disease and the way it destroys and inspires lives of those around them.

Yet, Oscar nominated director Lilibet Foster has created something more intimate and more devastating than the usual fare.

With unprecedented access to former Spartacus actor Andy Whitfield, his wife Vashti, and their children over an 18 month period, this warts and all video diary is equal parts inspiring, equal parts maddeningly upsetting and heartbreaking.

Whitfield was a model turned actor, whose star was severely in the ascent when he signed up for Starz drama Spartacus, filmed in New Zealand. At the end of the first season, his life changed completely when a routine check up for a pain revealed he had Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Suddenly facing a life-changing disease and nothing more than sheer bad bloody luck, the doco follows the highs and extreme lows of living day to day with a disease. From Andy's mantra of living in the moment and turning the negatives into the positive, it's clear this doco wants to be inspirational. And it'll be the hardest of hearts and the most cynical of human beings that's not moved by his sheer positivity in the face of such an incredible wave of bad news, flying the Whitfields way.

This is perhaps one of the most intimate docos on the subject of cancer; at times, it's a hard watch as the cruel blows keep raining down on them.

However, Foster's omni-present yet never intrusive camera gets to the rub of the matter and presents in a heart-breakingly honest way that's never mawkish.

Witnessing wife Vashti's arc is going to be nothing more than a positive for many as well. Initially fearing she can't support her husband because she doesn't  fully buy into his positivity before ultimately holding her husband up and supporting him when the final diagnosis drops and no other options remain, she's a portrait of honesty, anger, support and love.

Equally, Andy Whitfield's portrayal of a family man, a man for whom fighting the disease was a blessing in disguise because he can spend time with the kids, is something aspirational.

This is a warts and all documentary, that's sensitively executed, carefully probing yet never intrusive and with a stark, emotional honesty that many will recognise. It's film-making that captures a series of moments that show humans at their lowest and also at their most elated - there's no denying that Foster's film will anger you. But not because of the way the situation is milked, but because the way it's presented is nothing short of a compelling, conflicting, maddening and emotional ride.

At its heart, Be Here Now is a love story and a testament to a deeply loving relationship.

Sure, it may not have the happy ending that you ultimately expect, but the phoenix that rises from this tragedy is nothing short of inspiring, a sign of something to aspire to and a journey that's as humbling as it is heartfelt.

Be Here Now plays as part of the DocEdge festival in Wellington now and in Auckland from May 18th.

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