This is a review of Truman by Cesc Gay.

Truman by Cesc Gay is a film that almost made me cry. Almost. It talks about friendship, looming departure from this world and impending loss of a loved one in a restrained manner by peppering the emotional scenes with sufficient amount of witty remarks, just enough to stop the ugly cry from happening.

Truman is the story of Julián (the mesmerizing Ricardo Darín), an Argentinian theater actor who has called Madrid home for many years. Like a stereotypical actor, he is good looking, charming, popular with the ladies and lives excessively. The last part bites him in the butt and gives him cancer. Instead of crumbling into a heap, Julián faces the situation head-on.

As Julián deals with his unfortunate situation, here comes Tomás (Javier Cámara), his longtime friend who lives in Canada (or the North Pole as referred to by Julián) to spend four days with him.

Poster of Truman by Cesc Gay, with Tomás (Javier Cámara) and Julián (Ricardo Darín)

Poster of Truman by Cesc Gay, with Tomás (Javier Cámara) and Julián (Ricardo Darín)

Tomás wishes to talk to Julián about the latter’s treatments but realizes that Julián has already made up his mind and there is no changing it. Instead of bullying Julián into taking the traditional route, Tomás lets the four days unfold laissez-faire style. They eat, dance and drink beer. They also hold hands in a strictly platonic way before they sleep, fly to Amsterdam for lunch (yes, lunch!) to surprise Julián’s son on his birthday and have long talks together – including taboo ones they skirted around for years.

In the midst of these activities, Julián brings along Tomás to his personal journey to put his affairs in order. This sounds morbid or depressing, but Truman handles Julián’s visits to the doctor and to the mortuary assessor with a healthy dose of comedy, thanks to the banter between the leads and the facial expressions of Tomás.

Yet, the most important part of Julián’s remaining business concerns Truman, his second son, constant companion in bed and loyal friend (since Tomás lives in the North Pole). Truman is a dog, a boxer with permanently sad expression who does not make any unnecessary noise. Julián is more concerned about Truman’s well-being than his own. He goes as far as studying animal psychology and the effects of a master’s passing on dogs, paying for Truman’s future visits to the veterinarian and auditioning its future owners. Julián’s actions are worthy of raising an eyebrow or two, and Tomás actually raises his eyebrow due to his friend’s seemingly odd behavior but does not utter a word.

I am biased, but I think Darín is perfect as the ageing actor Julián. He exudes confidence and retains his spoiled brat mentalitiy even when he looks and feels like “the last part of the digestive process”. He is bigger than life even in his boxers and with blotches on his face, but he is also relatable in his vulnerable moments. When he pees in his pants in one scene, he finds himself in an unfamiliar territory where he is no longer a romantic hero that audience loves but a man at death’s doorsteps. His facial expression changes from jolly, to “aww, shucks I am really dying” in split second. When his son Nico (Oriol Pla) hugs him so tight (I felt that Nico was also constricting my air passages), he looks at a loss. Darín’s face after that scene is worthy of the Goya Best Actor Award he received. When he moves away from Tomás and faces the river, to cry a little, alone, it is golden. Little moments like these make Truman more than just a movie about impending death.

Cámara is the silent yet powerful force behind Darín’s more talkative character. Cámara lets his body talk for him, an arched eyebrow, a smirk, a shrug of the shoulders, a long and withering look and a nod of the head say it all for Tomás. Even without verbal expressions, Cámara makes the audience know that he suffers in silence but has relinquished the right to do so outwardly.

The chemistry between Darín and Cámara is palpable onscreen. Their light moments do not feel contrived and their emotional scenes are touching. It is hard to fake that camaraderie in a film where the two of them share the screen majority of the time. The same can be said between Darín and the dog that plays Truman. 🙂 I just have to add that Truman must be the luckiest dog alive.

“Each person dies as best he can”, is Truman in a nutshell. Yes, it is about terminal illness and death, but it is not as depressing as it sounds. It is melancholy and introspective, yet it is also a celebration of life and friendship that stands the test of time and distance.

Catch Truman by Cesc Gay in 2016 PELÍCULA Manila Spanish Film Festival.

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