“Before Flying Back to the Earth” is set in a Lithuanian hospital ward for children with leukaemia

Ulla Jacobsen
Jacobsen was previously editor in chief of the DOX Magazine from March 1998 until early 2009. A lot of the DOX articles republished in ModernTimes was ordered by her. After 2009 she worked freelance, until she died in 2013.

It is first and foremost a film about children and their incredible ability to accept things that we as adults find unbearable, their way of just living, always moving and playing, with drops and tubes hanging from their bodies, all these bald children running around or intensely concentrating on whatever they are doing. Yet one mother describes her feelings: on the one hand, she is glad to observe that the hospital doesn’t make her son depressed anymore; on the other, she finds it sad that he accepts his fate so easily – as she thinks he should be living a different life, outside the hospital.

But we don’t get outside the hospital, the universe of the film is inside. From time to time we see short clips of the hospital building from the outside, the changing lights, the changing seasons. But inside, time doesn’t change, only the mental state between hope, sorrow and joy and the physical state between feeling fine and being ill.

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Arunas Matelis, who himself has been a parent in this situation (his daughter was successfully treated for leukaemia), obviously has an intimate relationship with the children. He is there filming them as they just play around, eat their dinner, watch television; he talks with them about friendship, love, medicine, other stuff. He asks them questions like: What do you want to be when you grow up? Could you see her as your wife? – questions implying they will grow up, the positive approach that everybody at the hospital tries to take, however difficult it is. It is not a film about death but life, though without taking the omnipresent disease and threat of death lightly.

The hospital scenes are interspliced with sequences of black and white still photos, which have an extremely strong effect. The photos are expressive and catch the children in different situations showing feelings like joy or sorrow, and the effect of stopping time, watching that same expression for several seconds makes them even more powerful emphasized by the soundtrack adding external sounds or music stressing the mood.

Another of the countless qualities of the film, which sets it apart from most other films dealing with such subjects, is its avoidance of focusing on the children’s chances of survival: there is no information about who dies and who survives. It manages the difficult balance of being emotional without ever being sentimental.

Every detail is carefully chosen, composed and edited, constituting a great poetic work, full of emotion, love and respect.

 


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