By Dr Khalid Ali, Film and Media Correspondent
In 2017 the British healthcare system was dominated by news of escalating pressure on hospital beds and crisis alerts on a daily basis, longer than ever waiting times for clinic appointments, cancellation of elective procedures, and a surgeon signing his name on the livers of patients he operated on! In this climate, does it not seem frivolous to talk about films of the year? Surely not, for films can offer a lot of thought-provoking subjects for viewers, healthcare professionals and patients alike. Hard hitting dilemmas relating to physical and mental health formed the storylines of such films; memories of which will linger in the hearts and minds of viewers long after 2017.
Watching a good film opens up the door to a world of exciting possibilities and reflections about humanity, morality, and mortality, all subjects that are the core business of medicine. My motto this year of ‘a film a day keeps the doctor away’ has been seriously tested as the more I watch films, the more I see patients’ and doctors’ stories on screen; they cannot be that far away even if I tried. Once more the London Film Festival in October allowed me to sample the best of ‘world cinema’.
My selection criteria for the year’s best films followed three simple rules:
- Did the film make me relate to its characters and empathise with them? In other words, did it make me emotional and cry?
- Does the film have a clear message related to physical or mental health of patients or their treating doctors?
- Would I recommend it to a friend to watch?
Fearful of copying the formula of some British TV talent competitions where the audience are kept in suspense waiting for the winner of a music or dance challenge to be announced, I deliberately left a clue for my number one film in the title above. Now here comes my top ten.
- Stronger (USA) directed by David Gordon Green. Jake Gyllenhall relives on screen the true story of Jeff Bauman, a Boston resident who regains control of his life in spite of bilateral leg amputation after the Boston marathon bombing.
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer (UK, Ireland) directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Colin Farrell, a successful cardiothoracic surgeon, has the perfect life with wife Nicole Kidman, an ophthalmologist, a son and a daughter. Their family bliss is shattered by the arrival of the son of one of Farrell’s deceased patients.
- Félicité (France, Senegal) directed by Alain Gomis. Félicité is a feisty singer in Kinshasa. She is racing against time to make enough money to pay for her son’s operation and save his legs from amputation after a road traffic accident. The film’s authentic portrayal of a single woman fighting a corrupt healthcare and social system was awarded the ‘Silver Bear Grand Jury’ prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
- Anchor and Hope (Spain, UK) directed by Carlos Marquez-Marcet. Two women are looking for a sperm donor to start their family with their hapless male friend. Artificial insemination, women’s fragility and resilience are handled with warmth, wit and empathy.
- The Big Sick (USA) directed by Michael Showalter. An independent film which was a surprise hit at the Sundance Film Festival. Kumail is a stand-up comedian from a Muslim family of Indian origins. He cannot tell his traditional family that he is in love with a white American girl till she ends up in hospital with a coma.
- Unrest (USA) directed by Jennifer Brea. A documentary film made by Jennifer Brea about her journey with chronic fatigue syndrome. The Los Angeles Times described it as, ‘sensitive and arresting rally cry for increased awareness about this disease, and an existential exploration of the meaning of life while battling a crippling chronic illness’.
- David Stratton: A Cinematic Life (Australia) directed by Sally Aitken. In a series of poignant interviews with David Stratton and a stellar group of Australian stars including Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, we follow the story of a British film buff and how his love for film and Australian cinema brought him joy and contentment.
- Wajib (Palestine) directed by Annemarie Jacir. A road movie following a Palestinian emigrant in Italy who returns to his homeland for his sister’s wedding. He joins his ailing father on car trips to invite guests to the wedding, bickering non-stop. The social and political background of life in Palestine has never been more intimately portrayed with impeccable acting winning the real-life father and son Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri joint best actor award at th Dubai Film Festival.
- Marjorie Prime (USA) directed by Michael Almereyda. A meditation on memory, identity and filial duties told via the story of Marjorie, an old woman losing her memory to dementia. In a futuristic world, her daughter and son-in-law bring her a hologram machine, a younger replica of her late husband.
- Paddington 2 (UK) directed by Paul King. Life is not a long happy journey sweetened by ‘marmalade sandwiches’ for Paddington Bear after settling in London with the Brown family. The world is full of evil creatures. However, in the darkest of corners (including prison), hope and happiness can still be found. Simply articulated by Paddington: ‘if you look for kindness in people, you will find it’. In its charming wisdom and humanity, Paddington 2 encapsulates the essence of the medical profession in kindly caring for people in their most vulnerable times.
I wish you all a joyous festive period in the remaining few days of 2017, and a very happy and peaceful 2018; I will sign off for the year with a quote from Jackie Kay’s poem, ‘Small’:
It’s always the small that
gets you, a wee act
of kindness, the tiniest detail
a stranger’s caress,
your heart, the way you react
when faced with trials.
The gift of a bluebell, an embrace,
Oh- the yellow gorse,
the small brown foals
the crows lined up
from the train window.
Beauty, inches close to sorrow.