Review 1. I Won’t Die

A documentary about a wealthy man battling pancreatic cancer and his journey during challenging times.

It’s hard to make a documentary about an oncology patient, but it’s even harder to do it without evoking excessive sympathy. In I Won’t Die (Nem halok meg) Hungarian director Asia Dér employs an unconventional and distinctive approach to illuminate the profound journey undertaken by cancer patients.

Gabor is a successful, life-loving art gallerist and part of the high society of Budapest. He is always busy. Surrounded by people. Marching towards higher and higher goals. His existence is full of constant innovations and adventures. However, his perfect life is shaken by the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, one of the most fatal illnesses of our times. Faced with the seriousness of his condition, Gabor stays strong, determined not to give in to his fate. He’s not the one who gives up. The director takes inspiration from Gabor’s strong spirit and sets out on a meaningful journey to help the audience understand the depth of this difficult battle.

Right from the opening shot, it’s clear that this film is deeply personal. The audience will stick with Gabor throughout the entire journey, no matter how it may end. They will be with him in the hospital room. In the car. In his bedroom. And even on the operating table. It is this physical proximity to the character that creates closeness and connection between the audience and the film.

To enhance personal intimacy, DP Balázs Domokos often uses close-ups on Gabor’s face, where despite his attitude and active nature, we see fear. Close-ups are occasionally replaced by long, static scenes, which allow the viewer to distance themselves from the character and create a voyeuristic feeling.

Loneliness plays a big role in I Won’t die. It’s common for cancer patients who are nearing the end of their journey to grapple with feelings of isolation. It doesn’t matter how many people are around them or how extensive their social network may be. This holds true even for individuals as influential and sociable as Gabor, as they too find themselves in the same circumstances.

Another element that blurs the line between reality and the screen is Gabor’s direct interactions with the director, breaking the fourth wall. Through these personal exchanges, he speaks directly to the viewer, sharing his experiences from his own point of view. The places, people, and stories that surface are natural, unforced, and genuine, much like everyday life.

The director, who journeys alongside Gabor through his challenging path, consistently maintains a moral high ground and refrains from exploiting her characters or their stories. She steers clear of employing cheap emotional manipulations and is resolute in conveying a story of resilience. However, besides the courage, Gabor can also count on his considerable privilege. His finances and influence enable him to access the best treatment, meet top doctors, and maintain the belief that “life can be bought.” The director chooses to delve into this story, emphasizing Gabor’s wealth visually through expensive cars, luxury items and his stylish apartment. Despite his strong character, it becomes evident that resources play a pivotal role in some situations, highlighting that being courageous is a privilege not accessible to the less fortunate.

Ani Kiladze