Mademoiselle and the Doctor (Janine Hosking, 2004)
[note: review originally published 29Nov2008]
The debate over euthanasia is ludicrous. Contesting a human being’s right to die is the same as contesting a human being’s right to breathe; we all have to do it. And yet the debate still rages; should humans be allowed to die with dignity if they so choose? Janine Hosking’s documentary provides us a glimpse into the life of Australian doctor and activist Philip Nitschke, the man who is fighting the battle for the right to die almost singlehandedly. And just to make things a bit more interesting– for, unless you’re a bona fide nutcase, it’s pretty hard to argue against euthanasia for, say, a terminally ill cancer patient who is in constant, unrelenting pain– the case which Hosking documents during her time with Nitschke is that of Lisette Nigot, a woman who is, aside from her advanced age, in perfect health. She doesn’t want euthanasia because she’s on her deathbed anyway, she wants euthanasia because she knows that eventually the deathbed is coming, and she wants the right to say when and where it comes.
Nitschke and Nigot are fascinating people, and the hoops that Nitschke has to jump through just to make a living make for fascinating documentary fodder; all Hosking has to do is point the camera and press record, and the documentary can pretty much make itself. Because of that, it’s hard to “rate” this movie on anything but its subject matter; the technical aspects of the film are competent, enough so that the camera, in essence, becomes invisible. An excellent quality for a documentary to have, indeed. (While others are not quite so transparent, but can still make brilliant documentaries; it’s obvious, for example, when one is watching an Errol Morris documentary that it’s an Errol Morris documentary; that doesn’t make Mr. Death or Gates of Heaven any less engrossing.) Because of that, however, perhaps an undue amount of influence is placed squarely on the film’s subject matter; I doubt this movie is going to change anyone’s mind on the subject of euthanasia. If you’re sympathetic to the idea, you’re probably going to like this; if you’re dead set against it, you probably won’t. Because of this, the film does give off a “preaching to the choir” kind of vibe, though I’d think the anti-euthanasia crowd may still find it fascinating in a “know thy enemy” kind of way. One way or the other, I do believe it’s worth watching, but– and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I never thought I would– I’d have liked to see a bit of a slant, perhaps, something that the anti- crowd would be able to chew on for a while. ***
An extended version of the documentary is now available online.