By Gregory Crofton
How do you make a film about life when you’re dying?
Héctor Babenco somehow figured it out.
“I don’t know what came first, filming or being alive,” he says. “As if by filming, you’re living an extra day.”
Passion for the medium was innate to Babenco, and he would not, did not, miss a chance to turn his death into a story that celebrates life.
After the filmmaker realized he faced a second battle with cancer, he encouraged his girlfriend, the Brazilian actress Barbara Paz, to pick up a camera and tell his story.
It worked. The resulting film is rich and inspiring. Documentary footage of Babenco’s life and days of sickness is mixed with clips from his past work (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ironweed, among them) and cut together with end-of-life fantasy sequences.
These pieces are woven into a vivid, moving tale by Paz. The cinematography reminds me of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” (2018), and it’s directed in a way that brings to mind the work of Federico Fellini. Willem Dafoe is a producer of the film and also acts in several scripted scenes.
“Babenco” took home Best Documentary at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, and it’s being distributed by London-based Taskovski Films. I was lucky to see it as a screener from DOC NYC. Hopefully it will be available to watch streaming soon.