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Exploring life in face of death

'The Event' provokes thought about assisted suicide. It's a best effort by filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald.

October 03, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"The Event" is a deeply affecting film that is an important accomplishment on many counts. It is a celebration of life in the face of death, an affirmation of dignity in the midst of tragic loss and an assertion to the right to privacy. It marks impressive growth and maturity in venturesome Canadian filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald and, best of all, it has provided Olympia Dukakis with an awe-inspiring role, considerably richer than her part as Cher's mother in "Moonstruck," which won her an Oscar.

In a radical change of pace, Parker Posey plays Nicole "Nick" DeVivo, a hard-nosed Manhattan assistant district attorney investigating a cluster of deaths of AIDS-stricken gay men that she suspects are in fact assisted suicides. Suicide of any kind is anathema to Nick, presumably on religious grounds, and she is totally closed-minded on the subject. Easy to dislike, she reacts impassively, with a staring, closemouthed primness that makes her look plain and sullen, to any and all accounts of human suffering in extremis.

Yet Brian (Brent Carver), director of an AIDS hospice, faces this relentless interrogator with an unshakable calm as he tells the story of his friend and client Matt (Don McKellar), a young classical cellist. The film unfolds in flashbacks covering a two-year period beginning in 2000 as Nick's investigation proceeds.

At heart, Matt's story is simple, overly familiar and terrible. He's reached the point where all the AIDS cocktails have failed, triggering a collapse, followed by a temporary recovery that is interrupted by increasingly frequent seizures caused by spreading brain tumors. Matt at last must come out to his mother, Lila (Dukakis), as well as informing her that he is dying. He then considers his options.

Nick's friends rally around him, not surprisingly, but the heart of the matter is his family. Dukakis shows the extraordinary strength and wisdom within a seemingly ordinary middle-class woman. She is wise and accepting, and if she seems a saint she is a very earthy, no-nonsense one. Her younger daughter (Sarah Polley) is supportive, but her older daughter (Joanna P. Adler) responds to her brother's news that he is in the final stages of AIDS with an anger at his stupidity for not protecting himself, which is understandable, but her fury dissipates into a bitterness that makes her an ally of Nick.

"The Event" has such quiet power that it is actually not depressing, and the cast follows suit with Dukakis, Carver and Posey, rising to the occasion. In previous films, including the intriguing if somewhat uneven "Beefcake," about legendary L.A. physique photographer Bob Mizner, Fitzgerald has been a conventional filmmaker drawn to largely unconventional subjects.

Here, his narrative abilities have never been stronger or more confident, some forgivably awkward attempts at comic relief aside, and the concluding sequence of "The Event" has a visual and emotional impact that takes his work to a new level.

"The Event" intends to make a strong case for assisted suicide, but it lies within a much larger, even profound, view of humanity. More than anything else, the film celebrates, of all things, mother love, an enduring staple of foreign cinema but rarely touched upon so effectively in English-language films.


The Event

MPAA rating: R, for sexual content, language and some drug use

Times guidelines: Too intense for children

Olympia Dukakis...Lila Shapiro

Brent Carver...Brian

Don McKellar...Matt Shapiro

Parker Posey...Nicole "Nick" DeVivo

Sarah Polley...Dana Shapiro

A ThinkFilm release of a Covington International and Flutie Entertainment presentation of an Arkanjel and Emotion Picture. Director Thom Fitzgerald. Producers Bryan Hofbauer, Thom Fitzgerald. Executive producers Robert Flutie, Vicki McCarty. Screenplay by Tim Marback, Steven Hillyer and Fitzgerald. Cinematographer Thomas M. Harting. Editor Christopher Cooper. Music Christophe Beck. Costumes Mia Morgan, Sian Morris Ross. Production designer D'Arcy Poultney. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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