Cinema for Advanced Learners
in 19th Festroia International Film Festival
Love triangle, unsuccessful suicides one after another, last minute help. Group psychotherapy, orphans, single moms. Clinics, cancer and cemeteries. All that heartbreaking stuff, wrapped up in happy end, makes our immortal beloved Hollywood. Lower drastically the budget, add a couple of guilty-face English actors, trained in British drama schools to articulate overweight dialogue, lock the plot in gloaming Glasgow and you’ve got the inescapable Hallmark. The film “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” generously grants us with every one of these commercial cinema elements, even adds a lot more. Its very beginning immediately responds to the promising (and totally inappropriate for Hollywood or Hallmark!) title. It is funny to witness how a troubled guy fails poisoning himself at the same time by pills and gas. It is made to be funny. Not a standard filmmaker would start a serious story that way. Any tragedy needs foreplay and unless it is not “Irreversible”, never starts from the middle or the end. Everything really looks funny and people facing the screen laugh. Including the experienced viewers among them, who expect from “Dogma” stamped Danish director Lone Scherfig some sort of a dark comedy with a touch of her well-known sympathy and understanding for hidden human longings.
Wilbur (Silver Dolphin for best actor at FesTroia ’03 to Jamie Sives) will keep trying to kill himself just about the end of the film. We should in the long run find out why. He would have probably succeeded long before the film started, if his older brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) hadn’t kept rescuing him. Maybe instead of dying Wilburg needs to be saved. Again and again. Harbour runs the family second-hand bookstore after their father’s death. Alongside problems with Wilbur, he falls in love and marries Alice (Sherley Henderson) – lonely single mom of a teenage girl, fired from her job as morgue cleaner. Meanwhile, suicidal Wilbur attends therapy course and attempts to mate a quirky nurse, mainly to avoid growing mutual attraction with his brother’s wife. The nurse always says what shouldn’t be said and reveals to the family Harbour’s secret. He has cancer. He will dye. He does. This is the happy end of the story. Sad, without being tragic. Optimistic, without being silly. The right feelings remain for the right people. In the right time. On the right place. Because life is always right.
“Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” is the right film for everyone, who hasn’t lost the ability to trust. Yet. Which means in particular to see movies, and in general – to experience life. Lone Scherfig tenderly pilots her audience through ordinary weakness and hidden force of common misfits. Only the way she makes it is not so ordinary. It would have been easier just to switch from one genre to the next, following the logics which usually turn comedy into melodrama, then into drama and tragedy… up to the final solution. In life and more visibly in movies. Instead, Scherfig keeps her story (she is co-writer of the script with Anders Thomas Jensen), her incredibly flexible actors and her limited locations in a constant state of genre-to-be. The moment you are ready to laugh you find your self faced to sudden sorrow. In the moment tears come, one starts laughing. Remember Chaplin? Loneliness, duty and passions meet at the crossroads of faithfulness and desire. Remember Bergman? Small wishes of small outsiders touched by love grow into wings. People become angels, angels become human. Hope hurts, but it is the only thing we have. Remember Wenders?
No quotes can be definitely spotted in “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”. Whatever you may find in it, is a matter of cultural, intellectual and emotional background, implemented in this perfectly done film for beginners in life and advanced dreamers in cinemas. Like all of us.
© FIPRESCI 2003