A mother, dying of cancer, starts tweeting her thoughts and limited plans for her limited future in the Argentina drama “Notes for My Son,” a dry-eyed weeper that’s not nearly as sad as you might expect.
And that’s a problem, because “sad” is what they were going for here. Not comically brave, not hopeful.
Carlos Sorin’s film, inspired by a true story, has Maria Vazquez (Valeria Bertuccelli, good) musing about “my biggest wish” (in Spanish with English subtitles), to see her “son finish primary school.”
Little Tomy is kindergarten age, and that’s just not going to happen.
As the spreading-beyond-treatable ovarian cancer shifts doctor’s (Mauricio Dayub) from hope to alleviating “pain” and “suffering,” her committed but numbed husband (Esteban Lamothe) tries to take it in, to think beyond the here-and-now.
He lies about what sort of day it is outside, because there’s no sense adding to her sadness. He fulfills her requests, even the most difficult ones.
That’s something “Notes” does very well, showing us the weight and the burden that spreads from a key member of the family’s illness. Getting someone to care for the boy (Julian Sorin), figuring out how to get him to see his mother and when (not too often) as Dad spends his nights with her in hospital, the simple logistics of meeting your obligations to a dying woman aren’t large scale problems — unless you’re facing them alone.
We also get the distinct impression that this wasn’t the happiest of marriages, but that he’s determined to do one last thing for her and do it right. And some of that involves talking to physicians and dealing with lawyers, because one thing that comforts Maria is the assurance that “once the pain gets too bad, you’ll just put me to sleep, right?”
That’s a big ask in much of the world. “Euthanasia” has dangerous legal issues tied up in it, and even “terminal sedation” (a slower, family-assisted sedated death of dehydration) would break the average person asked to carry it out in permanent ways.
Is Fede up to it?
Her family and friends gather, resolving as a group to not cry in front of Maria. She genuinely looks sick and never tries to laugh all this off. But she refuses to be morbid with them or Fede. She hugs her little boy, who is too young to understand all this and takes this unusual routine in stride. She writes in the notebook she’s leaving behind for him.
“I feel jealous and envious of the people who get to watch you grow up.”
And she tweets.
“Everything is more vivid and real when you’re dying.”
Her “notes” and tweets are typed or handwritten in English for this version.
Writer-director Sorin has a built-in weeper here, but at every turn he pulls his punches, stops just short of the paroxysms of grief — tears — that feel called for and yet avoided at all costs. We see Maria get “famous” for her tweets. And?
It’s not like she’s the only person ever to go through this, and her musings about her last days are a common Internet phenomenon these days. She’s not a poet, and her profundities aren’t unique. Without the sadness, without her and those around her letting us see what she is reluctantly leaving behind, “Notes for My Son” feels empty, something of a cheat, a film stuck in “acceptance” when we long for something leading up to that terminal resignation.
None of this takes anything away from the real victim’s life and experience. I’m just saying if somebody’s telling the story of my last days, I hope they have the guts to let somebody (other than one character) cry.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, adult subject matter
Cast: Valeria Bertuccelli, Esteban Lamothe, Julian Sorin
Credits: Scripted and directed by Carlos Sorin. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:24