Truman is an astutely observed and exquisitely crafted work on male friendship and confronting mortality. Lighthearted and wise, funny and sad, profoundly moving.

Review: (rolanstein)
The Spanish Film Festival has delivered some of my favourite films of the last 3 years. In 2014, there was the utterly fabbo Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed. Last year, we had the highly original black comedy firecracker from Argentina, Wild Tales – for me, the best film of 2015. Coming into the 2016 festival (starts in Perth on Thursday 21 April), there’s another beauty to watch out for: the Argentinian/Spanish co-production Truman. In my view, this is the pick o the crop in a very strong year so far.

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when you’re plunged into the world of a movie from the opening frames and stay immersed to the very end. The actors don’t seem to be acting, the characters live and breathe. You emerge exhilarated by a vicarious experience that has left you moved, pondering, lit up. That’s how Truman is.

It’s a low-budget affair, a dialogue and character-driven piece in which there is not much action per se. The stuff that happens is within and between the characters, and this is where the film excels. The writing and characterisation is superb, the actors equally so, thriving off dialogue that is at once natural in feel, yet tight and dramatically purposeful. The result is consummately well-integrated characters that seem real. You relate to them, care about them, laugh with them, feel their pain. This makes for an exquisite and profoundly moving cinema treat devoid of sentimentality or tear-jerking manipulation, with funny moments of light relief scattered liberally throughout.

It’s a rather grim narrative setup. Julián (played by Argentinian actor Ricardo Darín, who featured in Wild Tales) and Tomás (Javier Cámara, who played the lead in Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed) are middle-aged best-buddies-from-childhood who have disconnected over the years as they pursued different directions. Julián, a teacher, has flown from his adopted home of Canada, where he lives a comfortable life with his wife and kids, to spend 4 days with Tomás, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Tomás lives in Madrid, where he’s eked out a living as an actor. He’s a Peter Pan whose age and hedonistic bohemian lifestyle has caught up with him. He has no savings, is divorced and single, and shares his bachelor pad with his beloved dog Truman.

For all their shared history, the guys are in new territory. Tomás cracks hardy, but is understandably all over the place, in and out of denial, angry one moment, back to his irreverent self the next. Beneath the surface, he is struggling to come to terms with his illness and confront his mortality.

He betrays his closely guarded fears and dread at what is to come in all sorts of little ways. Julián is sensitive and astute and picks up on these, but does his best to be the friend he always was. He understands that Tomás is desperate for stability, but that he also needs to provide him with emotional support of the kind that doesn’t come easily between males.

It’s a difficult balancing act for both men, and one that is most beautifully negotiated as the film plays out through a combination of blokey dialogue-of-mates, jokey sparring, and a few short-lived flare-ups, while an unspoken communication runs like a current of brotherly tenderness and love beneath. There’s a particularly poignant moment when Tomás holds out his hand as he goes to sleep. Julian hesitates before he takes it, his awkwardness compounding the emotional power of the scene.

During the intense few days they spend together, they dip back into their past with some drinking sessions at the local, take a return day flight to Amsterdam to visit Tomás’ son and his girlfriend (on Tomás’ impulse and Julian’s money!), and seek a good home for Truman. It’s a heartbreaking proposition for Tomás to let go of his dog. He has to be sure that Truman will be looked after by the right person after he is gone, and no one makes the cut. It’s an apparently hopeless dilemma that is eventually resolved in a warming and humorous way perfectly in keeping with the tone of the movie and the nature of the characters and their relationship.

While the focus is on the two male leads, there are women in the story who play small but significant roles. Tomás’ carer, whose rage at hearing of his decision to end his life at a time of his choosing merely reflects her pain at contemplating his demise, figures in a heart-rending scene of catharsis in which she and Julián openly express their grief for the first time, in Tomás’ absence. And Tomás’ charming ex-wife puts in a fleeting appearance that gives some insight into his character. They have maintained a nice rapport, and it emerges that she still takes on some of his responsibilities, such as telling their son of his grim prognosis.

Look, I’m a picky bastard, and often hard to please, but I’ve gotta say I cannot pick a single flaw in Truman. It gets male communication down to a tee, and there’s an honesty and truth here that fuels the drama, informs the characters, and imbues the film with a wonderful sense of humanity. Like Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, this one might not make the cinema circuit after the Spanish Film Festival ends, so do whatever it takes to catch it while you can.

Movie Website:

Truman features: Ricardo Darín, Javier Cámara, Dolores Fonzi
Director: Cesc Gay
Writers: Tomàs Aragay, Cesc Gay

Australian release date: Thu 24 March- 11 May (2016 Spanish Film Festival)
Showing in Perth at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX: check 2016 Spanish Film Festival program for details.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

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