“When your child is sick, you have to start a new life.”
—Arūnas Matelis speaking at the post-screening Q&A at the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs
This exceptional film deserves to become required viewing for mankind. The spectacular balance between the twin poles of absolute despair and heroic courage brings the human spirit and our human experience into sharp focus that should shame all those who feel hard-done by life's challenges or those who make it their pleasure to inflict misery on others in the name of a greater good. For this is the story of children living with leukemia. Young, innocent, puzzled kids who must fight for their lives before they've reached puberty.
Shot in a children's hospital near Vilnius, Matelis' camera becomes one of the gang with the patients, family members and staff as the desperate struggle to restore health using pills, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. The odds for survival are stacked against the increasingly fragile souls. Video was employed so that the much larger crew required for film wouldn’t overwhelm the hospital’s special community. The resulting intimacy and sense of family is astonishing as it captures the entire range of feeling and emotion.
Little is said; there's no need to explain. We see bald heads, thin limbs, teary eyes, peeling skin, medicines, intravenous drips but also happy grins, playful runs down corridors, and looks of love. (Pity has no place in such an intensely charged environment.) We hear screams of pain and anguish, the efficient clunks of medical machinery searching for clues and a violent thunderstorm that seems tame in comparison. Confessions abound: one child candidly abhors his mouth ulcers and chemo side-effects; another young boy sings the praises of Karolina—romance fills the air. Several sequences of black-and-white stills add another layer of awful truth to the grim reality of random chance horror.
Some viewers will have to leave—the film’s uncomfortable moments cannot be born by those who choose to see life superficially. Others will vow to make an appointment to give blood or sign their organ donor cards. Finally, Matelis (lovingly aided by his editor Katharina Schmidt, “I found I couldn’t edit—I love all of the children”) has found a compelling way of begging the question: What if the countless financial and human resources devoted to destroying life were put to the service of preserving it? Seems so simple for those who’ve been there and hardly worth discussion for those who have not. JWR