Hot Docs – A Woman Like Me – Alex Sichel, Elizabeth Giamatti

When Alex Sichel is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she immediately envisions another woman – a different version of herself – who undergoes the same journey, but in the spirit of living through it, rather than dying from it.  Ever the filmmaker, Alex embarks on a mission to tell her own story, through both voices – hers, and the other her (played by the lovely Lili Taylor).  The result is a fascinating, charming, often humorous peek inside one woman’s struggle to live and die on her own terms, and in her own way.

Alex enlists the help of her husband, young daughter, and various friends and family to shoot a fictitious account of her battle with her doomsday prognosis, all the while documenting her actual journey through all of the medical and alternative treatments she decides to try.  From hospitals and stacks of medications, to healers of various schools of thought, to annual trips to a favourite Buddhist retreat, Alex navigates a roller-coaster ride through fear and hope, openly expressing both, so as to take the viewer along with her.

As a director, Alex has a clear vision in mind for the other her, and the characters who surround her.   She has an uncanny ability to see into each character’s mind and emotional process, even the doctor who had to give her the news that her cancer had spread.  This same insight and control doesn’t always extend into her real life, when she can’t necessarily control how people react to having the camera enter their personal space and her insistence that they ACT natural, rather than BE natural.  Still, the camera is an impartial party in documenting the action, and the “realness” of each person who crosses in front of its lens is what ultimately draws the viewer in.  Alex herself is very engaging to watch on both sides of the camera, and the people she surrounds herself with in her real life make for highly watchable storytellers, themselves.

So watchable, in fact, that by the time the final frame pops up on screen right before the credits roll, the inevitable ending still feels like a punch to the gut to the viewer, even as the journey itself feels invaluable to all who go along on it with Alex and those she chose to have in her life.

A Woman Like Me screens tonight at 7:30pm at Scotiabank Theatre, Monday April 27 at 1:00pm at the Isabel Bader theatre, and again Sunday May 3rd at the Lightbox.

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