Dying for recognition

Category: One More Kiss News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: November 11, 1999 | Publication: The Herald (Glasgow) | Author: Gavin Docherty
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Left, Valerie Edmonds as Sarah, being directed by Vadim Jean in the powerful drama One More Kiss. Above, Lizzie Francke of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, who was against its inclusion

Vadim Jean

The director is still bitter about his latest film having been passed over for a premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival, despite its strong subject matter and an all-Scottish cast. Now you can judge for yourself, says Gavin Docherty

The scene fades up on a New York skyline. High above the steamy streets stands a woman in her early thirties. Her expression is resolute. Woman: "They say the best time to jump from the Empire State Building is about 5pm, when the wind is low and the traffic won't stop for anybody."

Thus begins One More Kiss, a romantic drama by award-winning film director Vadim Jean, (Leon the Pig Farmer, Beyond Bedlam, Clockwork Mice). A film with an

all-Scottish cast, shot in Berwick and New York that should, according to its 35-year-old director at least, have become the toast of this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.

But this hard-hitting flick with its compelling opening sequence will instead hold its British premiere on Monday at the London Film Festival. Much to the relief of Jean, who is still smarting about not having had his latest and, he says, most personal, work selected for the prestigious Edinburgh event.

Directors aren't supposed to grouch when their submitted films aren't included in a festival programme. The selection process is done with impunity. Such protestations are considered bad form. Yet, having seen One More Kiss, which tells the tragic story of Sarah (Valerie Edmonds, of Complicity and Crow Road fame), it was like being plunged into cold water. The shock is revivifying and restorative. And those are not terms one might usually apply to a film about a woman dying from cancer.

In terms of story development, One More Kiss may be heavy-handed, but it is also a bitterly intelligent film, made in a spirit of sustained anger that is virtually unheard of in the cinematic treatment of a sentimental issue like terminal illness.

The film concerns what happens when Sarah, who has become a successful businesswoman in New York, returns home to the Scottish community where she grew up in order to spend the precious little time she has got left with the love of her life, Sam (Gerry Butler) now married to Charlotte (Valerie Gogan) and also with her despairing father, Frank (James Cosmo).

Put simply, it's when you really start to get afraid of death that you appreciate life. As Sarah points out when two trick-or-treaters come to her door: "Halloween already. Just think, next year I'll be able to come back as a real ghost." What open sarcasm. What cold scornfulness. And much later in her valediction: "Remember, don't sleepwalk through life, grab it, do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage, against the dying of the light."

"For her the film just wasn't hard enough," he says of Edinburgh director Lizzie Francke's decision to drop it from the programme. "She said: 'That's not how it is'. Her precise words were: 'My friend died of cancer a few years ago and that's not how it happened'. She said she wouldn't programme any film about cancer, which is patently not true. One of the films she championed was Haut les Coeurs, a film about a woman with breast cancer. She programmed Life is Beautiful last year - and the Holocaust didn't happen like that."

The very first public showing of Jean's comedy Leon the Pig Farmer was held at the Edinburgh Film Festival. So he was doubly disappointed at being left out this time and says he would have accepted it more readily if Francke had said to him she would not have programmed any film about cancer. "She lied to me. So I want to know what the real reason is. It just doesn't make any sense.

"When people see the film in Scotland, they will ask how a film of this quality, this power, and this importance could not be selected

for Edinburgh. My actors don't understand. Nobody can understand how this film could not get selected. It beggars belief when every other British film made this year seems to have been in the festival."

Like many directors, Jean, of course, is an over-actor, but his mix of anger and contempt is right for the circumstances. His movie is fuelled by Sarah's disdain, not just at the thought of having life snatched from her, but also at her loved ones for not having the perspicacity to revel in their time.

"Valerie brings a great performance to the role of being a modern strong woman who is faced with the position of knowing how long she has to live. What she chooses to do in that situation is to live life to the full.

"Ironically, she has more life than anyone else in the film. She is a force of life. When she comes back she sees her father sat in the same chair for seven years. She realises he has got 20 or 30 years left. She realises that he has his whole life to lead. The one thing she wants to do before she dies is to enable him to kick back into life.

"The film isn't about dying. It's about how to lead the rest of your life. It's about living life to the full. This is a film about somebody who has realised too late. It is the most life-affirming film, the most life-changing film. I have got a pile of letters from people who have said 'this has changed my life'. It's powerful in a positive way."

If Jean has his way, then One More Kiss could become the cancer movie compared to which all the others - including Julia Roberts' starrer Dying Young, and Michael Keaton's My Life - look soft, or just plain slushy-slushy.

The charity Cancer Research found the film's grounded-in-reality attitude towards a terminal illness has merited a Royal Charity Premiere which will happen before it goes on general release in January.

So what drove a director with a distinctly variable career to take the reins of a sentimental love story?

"I had never experienced anybody close to me dying until two years ago when Mark Frankel, who played the title role in Leon the Pig Farmer, died in a motorbike accident. The experience of having a close friend ripped away before his time was painful. I experienced grief really at first hand. The last time I saw him was in a hotel in Hollywood about four or five months before he died. I was supposed to see him about two weeks before he died but couldn't make it and cancelled. I kind of regret that in a way. I should have seen him and I didn't and I wish I had.

"It made me sadder than anything I have ever experienced. That was somebody who would have been a friend of mine forever. I just took it for granted that he would always be there."

Copyright 1999 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited