Film reviews

Manchester Film Festival: Can’t Say Goodbye

A father dying of cancer is an excruciatingly difficult period, but for two sisters and their father, the cancer has created opportunities to reconcile. In darkness, there is light, and there is a beautiful light in the very dark Can’t Say Goodbye.

Opening with Carla (Julieta’s Nathalie Poza) with the desire to score some cocaine in a cheap-looking bar/cafe establishment with a younger couple, who appear to hardly know her, and then getting reckless after all of the cocaine was consumed before her turn, the audience is immediately presented with what Carla is all about, essentially.

Subsequently elsewhere, Carla’s father, José (Cabeza de Vaca’s Juan Diego), is giving out a lesson as a driving instructor to a novice as such, and he has zero patience with said novice, but an illness or health issue is overwhelmingly present – José has terminal cancer.

Carla is contacted by her more settled and normal sister, Blanca (The Sea Inside’s Lola Dueñas), that their dad is sick and in hospital. Carla’s reunion with her dad occurs in the hospital itself, thus she is witnessing her dad as a broken person in a broken place. The reconcile between Carla and Blanca not only reveals more about the central family of Can’t Say Goodbye, but it reveals more about Carla in how she is the complete opposite to any forms of settling down with a family and conformity. Blanca has a partner and child, but also possesses a creative talent: acting – all of which Carla doesn’t have, but Carla is most likely at the point in which she shows no envy as she considers Blanca’s possessions as unnecessary baggage.

Into the diagnoses and the sisters are handed nothing but cheap leaflets suggest post-death options – this sends Carla through the roof, as this is a sign of defeat before the battle has begun, before the doctors have done anything worthwhile. Blanca is in an awkward position because she understands that the post-death options need to be examined, but she needs to be cool with her sister during a very, very dark time in their family, thus an awkward smile and awkward “Thanks.” is her response to the doctor. Carla holds higher ambitions: she wants to take her sick father to away to receive “better” treatment.

In the quiet of the morning, Carla somehow manages to convince José to travel in search of “better” treatment, but at the airport, he backs down. Their only option of adventure is via the car. José, though dying, begs Carla to let him drive, as he both drives for a living and doesn’t trust Carla’s driving skills. In such a sad film, these sequences are relatively humorous to see in Can’t Say Goodbye, though the fun would continue again when José would later sneak out of the new hospital to find a bingo hall on the strip, where he both makes a temporary new friend and forces Carla to play a few games. It seems that after the cancer reveal in Can’t Say Goodbye, Carla will do anything for her father’s benefit.

Nathalie Poza performance as Carla is, perhaps, the best in Spanish cinema for quite some time. Poza successfully presents the emotions of desperation, frustration and determination in very contrasting situations too – from alcohol drinking and drug taking to chaotically demanding that José’s hospital TV be fixed. It is not at all surprising that Poza collected the Best Lead Actress award at this year’s Goya Awards – the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars and BAFTAs.

Juan Diego’s performance connoted that a good quality of research was produced into those suffering from cancer and the affects of select medication. The stubbornness of José throughout Can’t Say Goodbye suggests a profound amount of reluctance to surrender and submit to cancer, and let the disease dictate the remainder of one’s life. Diego’s performance, like Poza, feels terrifically real. In a film where the subject matter is cancer and the way in which a family deals with it, realism in performance is essential – especially to viewers of whom have experienced cancer either first hand or someone they know. Diego’s performance as José presented so much raw realism that the audience was immersed in belief to the point where what was they were watching felt real.

It is difficult to consider which element of Can’t Say Goodbye to be the most powerful and captivating – Carla fighting against all odds to prevent the inevitable or José’s stubbornness to abort health advice and wander off to find a bingo hall? The determination to fight something negative instead of submitting is admirable, but the fight in Can’t Say Goodbye reaches a point where it is wished for Carla to drop her rebellious nature and absorb some of her sister’s more settled approach.

Ultimately, those who have experienced cancer either first hand or through a family member – most specifically their dad – will most likely possess more of an emotional connection with Can’t Say Goodbye, though like any film, Can’t Say Goodbye can and should be viewed by anyone.

Can’t Say Goodbye is a truly incredible achievement by Lino Escarela, directing his first feature-length film – it is difficult to name a better directorial debut with a film featuring such a strong subject matter. Be sure to purchase Can’t Say Goodbye from the world cinema sections when the DVD/Blu-ray is available and see why it was the recipient of both the Best Foreign Language and Chief.TV Film of the Festival awards at Manchester Film Festival 2018.

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