Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leukemia threatens another life ... on film

Catherine Deneuve plays a woman with leukemia in a new movie

Tonight I heard an interview on NPR with Catherine Deneuve, known as the grande dame of French cinema and considered by many to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. I've followed her career since being transfixed by her performance in 1967's "Belle de Jour."

Now 65 and still beautiful, she plays the "monstrously complex" matriarch of a large, dysfunctional family in the new French movie, "A Christmas Tale." Her character has a rare form of leukemia, which killed her young son and now threatens her own life. It turns out that her black-sheep son is a perfect match for being a bone marrow donor. He says he doesn't love his mother. She says that's fine, because she doesn't love him. Obviously their relationship is complex and they love each other in their own ways.

In the interview, Deneuve discusses the complex relationships in the film and answers a question about how it has been for her to age on film in front of so many people. She replies that it is much easier for women to age gracefully in Europe than in the U.S. It's not a new thought, but still, it's interesting to hear it from her.

As for the film, I don't know how the story plays out, because the NPR story and print interviews don't give it away.

I do know that fatal blood cancers -- most often leukemia -  are "popular" in movies (and novels), including "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Terms of Endearment," "Love Story," "Dying Young," "Rainmaker" and a long list of others. I'm not sure why this is. Because leukemia and lymphoma sound mysterious, or romantic? Or maybe because they are a way of giving a character cancer without having to say the "C" word? (Although in the movie Deneuve's character presents herself by saying, "I'm the one with cancer.")

One google search for leukemia and movies turned up 48 entries!

I wonder if people have any thoughts about this.


Susan C said...

I didn't realize that the characters in Traveling Pants and Terms of Endearment had blood cancers.

I saw Love Story on the plane on the way to Hawaii, less than two weeks after my diagnosis. Geesh! They never even use the word cancer and the doctor shares the news with Oliver, not Jennifer.

The new film sounds intriguing. Cancer patients and their donors are most often portrayed as heroic and selfless and super-human. Not to say that they aren't, but it would be far more interesting (and true to life) to see characters with flaws and frailties, as the patient/donor in this film seem to have.

Ronni Gordon said...

The young character, Bailey, dies of leukemia in "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."

Debra Winger succumbs to lymphoma in "Terms of Endearment." Big cry-fest!

PJ said...

Maybe blood cancer (or other blood diseases like hemophilia) lends itself better to metaphor and symbolism because they're "whole body" diseases? Or maybe since blood cancers strike all ages, the disease gives writers more flexibility and dramatic effect? Solid tumors affect mainly older people, and death + old people isn't much of a story.

Susan C said...

I just clicked on your link to leukemia movies. It IS very interesting that blood cancers are often the chosen disease in cinema.

I think your reasons make sense, PJ. Except old people + cancer does make a movie. It was called Grumpy Old Men, but we never find out what kind of cancer they have.

Nelle said...

I remember seeing Love Story when I was 16 and remembering that when I received my diagnosis at age 23. I remember thinking it seemed so romantic in the movie and not quite so in real life.

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