CINEMA by Elizabeth Noel
"HAS it ever crossed your mind that Lorenzo may not want to be here?"
The question is not only unanswerable but incomprehensible to Lorenzo's parents, Augusto and Michaela Odone. Their sense of profound indignation at being asked to accept the inevitability of I,orenzo's death provides the dynamism behind this gritty and compelling film adaptation of their story, superbly directed by George Miller, whose previous repertoire surprisingly includes Mad Max and The Witches of Eastwick.
And Lorenzo's Oil is their story; if the film contains moments of Hollywood high drama then. as the saying goes. there is nothing more dramatic than real life.
But remarkably, the film resists the temptation to either glamorise or glorify the Odones' relentless efforts to find a cure which will save their son from the rare and invariably fatal disease, Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).
From the moment the chilling diagnosis is delivered, Lorenzo's parents, played by Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte, combine private terror with an outward nerve of steel and their unswerving performances catapult us through a series of disappointments and setbacks. The urgency with which the plot unfolds is not a casualty of the cinematic time frame but a reflection of the genuine race to save Lorenzo.
In a film where tiny triumphs are bitterly fought for, Miller faithfully records the enormity of the time and energy consumed by Lorenzo's parents to keep in touch with the spirit inside their fast-fading little boy.
With a patience and sensitivity perhaps not rivalled by a director since Arthur Penn's remarkable 1962 film adaptation of the life of Helen Keller, Miller allows each moment to be preciously cherished and unhurriedly shot.
(Michelle Pfeiffer, originally cast as Michaela, appreciated the intensity of this rapport and lost her nerve on the grounds that she was not a mother.) While Ms Sarandon fixes her fierce, full-beam glare on those who thwart her. Nolte turns himself into a medical wizard, becoming so habitual a visitor to the library that he is seen wearing house-slippers while he studies.
Another remarkable aspect of this film is its ability to unfold complex medical knowledge, as gradually drawn together by Augusto.
Peter Ustinov is splendid as the not ungentle, but maddeningly cautious, mouthpiece of the medical establishment.
And while the anti-expert "theme" (like every other theme in this film) is never tiresomely overworked, there are important scenes when the Odones challenge the slowmoving and procrastinating world of doctors and scientists. "Why can't we attempt to explore therapy?" cries Sarandon at the annual parents of ALD Childrens' Conference.
She and her husband's unconventional approach to an illness which almost every other parent has just powerlessly endured is the hallmark of this remarkable film.
Finally, did I weep? No, but not out of restraint but because it seemed an almost wicked luxury to allow myself such an easy deliverance.
The tenacity and brisk unsentimentality of this film allows no easy tears and demands a certain type of courage. if only to match the unconditional bravery of the Odone family.