This Too Shall Pass - Ang Aik Heng (SIFF 2009)

With a strong, award winning background in television documentaries, Ang Aik Heng has quite a bit under his belt when it comes to documentaries. This Too Shall Pass has the air of a well thought out and planned documentation of an elderly gentleman's soon-to-be demise from nose cancer and his family's struggles through his dying days.

Mr Lee is diagnosed with nose cancer and his daughter Ellen Lee and himself, make the decision to allow this documentary to be shot in order for Mr Lee's story to be told, as well his family's. Through the documentary we see the relationships he has with his various family members, especially his eldest daughter- the aforementioned Ellen Lee- and the torment he faces with his estranged son, all in the face of death.

What do you do, when death comes knocking at your door? For the Lees, a means of peace was the document their fathers' dying wishes. This means the documentary lays it all out on the table. Nothing is left to your imagination. The one thing that struck me about this film was Mr Lee's liberal and unabashed behaviour, even in front of the camera. Lee seemed more reserved at the beginning of the film and the audience can see him beginning to open up towards the end of th film.

Lee was an odd choice for a character, risky even, I believe. At first the film resembled something of a home movie, with great technical skill. This was mainly due to the fact that the characters, especially the character the story was centered around, Mr Lee, was mainly sullen and quiet. However, with a bit of clever editing and placement of Mr Lee's lively and honest eldest daughter, (who has one of the most approachable demeanors I have seen for a woman being followed around by a camera everyday) the beginning of the film became far less drawn out than I had feared. Lee seems more reserved at the beginning of the film but begins to open up towards the end of th film.

As the film progresses, Mr Lee becomes more candid and at ease with the camera. Death is universal and watching the demise of a fellow human being is never easy. In a gut wrenching scene, Mr Lee shows the audience the quality of his life by showing us an everyday activity of his, that being eating. As the audience watches on in horror, bits of food fall out his nose,into a bucket he places at his feet while he eats. He tells the camera he is in pain while he swallows. If the beginning of the movie hadn't solidified this enough, you get it now. This man is going to die.

The film focuses on other parts of Lee's life as well, like his wife and his estranged son, both of whom he has an extremely rocky relationship with. His son never appears in the movie, not even once but is mentioned as a cause of conflict throughout the entire movie. At certain points in the film I did wonder about the credibility of the son's atrocities but he seemed to be a common "villain" in the family that made them bond. A documentary is a story, and every story must have a villain. Part of the success of the documentary was the "villain" aspect. Unfortunately, this was fulfilled by his son.

Death is an easy issue to deal with in films. It is easy to evoke an emotion from the death of a fellow human being. This is especially so if the character is undeserving of the pain and suffering he or she has to go through. In the documentary genre however, it is amplified more so. Ang was able to make use of this emotion to create and honest piece of work that was in no way egoistic. Although it did play on the cliche of human emotion to send its message across, it did so effectively. Ang was the vessel through which the Lees told their story and his ability to let go of a directors control and build a rapport with a family he barely knew and allow them to tell their story is definitely commendable.




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