SIFF '09: THIS TOO SHALL PASS Review

While Sell Out! had comedic segments on death, dealing with the desire to film those whose life is about to expire for a reality show, This Too Shall Pass was quite uncanny in that it resembled that kind of film being made, albeit for different reasons, and minus the outright comedy.

It takes a more sombre look at death, and the preparation for the inevitable that will one day involve ourselves, and how we deal with it becomes one of the themes of this 61 minute documentary. The original rationale for such a documentary to be made, never mind if it involves the unabashed airing of dirty family linen in public, actually stemmed from a more personal and selfish grounds if you will, with the subject, an elderly man suffering from nose cancer, with support from his daughters, decided to record down his last wishes, especially when it comes to the distribution of his assets and his estate.

This only because of the wanting to avoid any arguments with his estranged son whom he pre-empts might create a fuss in the future, hence the need to document and film down his wishes. Uncle Lee, whom we will follow all the way to his deathbed, through director Ang Aik Heng's lens, has some words of wisdom to impart, as does his eldest daughter subsequently in deciding and revealing why they had sought help to have this documentary of their family's private moments recorded.

Filmed from October 2006 to January 2007, Ang transforms himself from stranger of the family to a valued member of sorts, having to gain the trust of all the family members, especially Uncle Lee's, to speak to him, and into the camera. Slowly but surely we observe how little nuggets of information by Uncle Lee, some even privy from his own family, get told quite candidly. We follow him through his 2nd round of radio therapy treatment, which takes some 35 days and comes with some jarring side effects, and for those who have no knowledge of the pain one goes through as a cancer patient, then this film would serve to open your eyes.

I suppose there will always be someone amongst the audience who would be in the shoes of a family member being tasked to become the primary caregiver of an elderly in the family. With our aging population, problems that come with it become very real, and will strike close to home, and I can't help but to wonder, quite morbidly, how I would have to make major adjustments should such a time come. These are some real societal problems that could happen to any household, especially when it boils down to the ugly scenario of squabbling over monetary issues.

You'll feel some emotional pangs when watching the film, especially toward the end, and I'm sure you would also have a mental run down of the decision you will make should you be in the same shoes some time, especially when it deals with the dilemma of debating whether it be best to pull the plug to end the suffering, or to persevere on in artificially prolonging one's life, even though you're somewhat certain of the immense physical pain that comes with it. And I admire how Ang stays a respectable distance when the situation calls for it, preferring not to intrude further into personal space as already graciously granted by the family.

It's a heartfelt local documentary that I recommend, and going by the lineup at the Singapore Panorama during this year's Singapore International Film Festival, it seems the documentaries are the ones that are blazing a trail for local film offerings.

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