Spanish writer/director Cesc Gay had a breakout hit in 2000 with Nico and Dani, about two teenagers who are best friends, one of whom is gay. His latest film, Truman, opening April 14 in the Bay Area, addresses two best friends, but this time they are middle-aged adults, and one of them is dying.
Truman opens in Montreal as Tomás (Javier Cámara) leaves his wife and two kids and flies to Spain to surprise his best friend, Julián (Ricardo Darin). Julián is not unhappy that Tomás has come to visit for four days. In fact, the timing could not be more perfect. Tomás can help Julián, who has decided against additional chemotherapy for his liver cancer. He is now putting his affairs in order in anticipation of his death.
Gay doesn’t dwell too much on the right-to-life issues, though they are raised. Instead, the filmmaker focuses on the friendship between the two men, and how the most important things in life are love and relationships. One of the best scenes in the film is an unexpected moment where Julián and Tomás express what they have learned from each other over the course of their friendship together. One of the most moving scenes has the two men holding hands as they go to sleep in twin beds in Tomás’s hotel room.
Gay is not a sentimentalist, and while Truman may tug at viewer’s heartstrings, it is never mawkish or maudlin. Most of the emotions generated by the film come from the characters’ inability to fully express what they are feeling. In fact, what is unsaid is often more telling that was is said. This is most effectively conveyed when Julián decides to pay an impromptu visit to his college-age son, Nico (Oriol Pla), in Amsterdam. With Tomás in tow, Julián feels he can finally work up the nerve to tell his son of his decision to end his life. Things don’t go entirely as hoped for—Nico has plans with his girlfriend Sophie (Lucie Desclozeaux) that day—but an embrace father and son share is quietly powerful.
Truman unfolds in a very gentle manner, typical of Gay’s films. The tone of the film is suitably poignant and melancholic. As Julián finds strength in his decision, he may not be completely aware of how difficult life will be for his friends who remain. In addition to Tomás, Julián’s sister Paula (Dolores Fonzi) reacts badly to her brother’s news.
Moreover, as Julián, an actor by trade, meets acquaintances he knows from the industry, he has different, emboldened reactions to folks based on his impending death. He chastises a friend who ignores him in a restaurant for his bad behavior, yet he apologizes to another friend whose marriage he fears he may have ended. These scenes depict Julián’s character, and as Tomás observes his friend’s behavior, he comes to gain a new respect for him. This also makes their parting more difficult.
As Julián prepares to end his life, even choosing between a coffin or urn for his remains, one of his chief concerns before he dies is who will care for his pet dog, Truman. (Truilo, the dog, gets a proper credit in this film.) Julián talks with his vet (Àlex Brendemühl) about how animals experience loss, and he meets with a lesbian couple who might adopt the pet. But it is pretty clear to viewers who Truman will end up with when the credits roll and why.
Gay isn’t looking to create narrative surprises in Truman, but he is looking to plumb the depths of human experience. He largely succeeds because of the fine performances by the two leads, both of whom worked with Gay on his previous film, A Gun in Each Hand. The Argentinean actor Ricardo Darin exudes an air of confidence and gravitas that befits his character. He also grows considerably more expressive with each interpersonal encounter. In contrast, Cámara nicely underplays his role as Tomás. His emotions and body language are palpable as he spends his last visit with his dying friend.
If the film has a narrative misstep, it occurs in a scene in the last reel that is meant to be cathartic for Tomás, but feels somewhat contrived. However, Julián observes that what happens makes sense in the scheme of things. Nevertheless, it seems to be out of character for Tomás. Still, this is a minor quibble for a sensitive film that yields considerable insights and pleasures.
© 2017 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer