Film Screening and Parent Panel Discussion

Life to Come Film and Discussion

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

2:00-4:00 p.m. (Eastern)

Join our community to view the film Life to Come and participate in a discussion with the parent panel after the film screening. There is no cost to attend this screening and discussion.

About the Film

The twins Eden and Léandro were born severely premature. Once out of the belly of their mother, Laurence, they find themselves propelled into the hostile and worrying world of the hospital, full of the sounds of machines and of doctors in white coats. As the weeks pass in the neonatal service, mother and children fight for survival. Haemorrhages, respiratory problems…

Surrounded by the medical team, Laurence lives to the rhythm of the twins, caught between the hope for improvement, fatigue, the ever-present possibility that things will go wrong and the fear they will die. The bond between mother and children is organic, vital. Together, they fight fiercely for life.

Q&A with director Claudio Capanna

What made you want to do this project?

I’ve been wanting to do this film for a very long time. I am a “slightly” premature baby, born a few weeks too early. I have always been interested in this topic, for I feel that I have a layer of “archaic” memories in my mind, like a very fine membrane. I did my thesis on Werner Herzog in 2003, and it is thanks to him that I moved towards documentary. I discovered his film Stroszek, which features a very powerful sequence with a premature baby.

In the 80s, at the time I was born, hospital departments for premature babies were completely hidden from the rest of the world. But over the course of the past few decades, neonatal services have progressively opened up to the world, thanks to new medical techniques that encourage the constant participation of parents in caring for their baby. In 2013, I met a woman who became a pivotal influence: Anne Pardou, former director of a neonatal unit, invited me into Erasme hospital. This fascinating woman granted me access to the neonatal department and introduced me to the medical team. This was all the more unusual in that the theme
I found so interesting was usually the preserve of female directors, seemingly a taboo subject for men.

I started filming and realised that all the notes that I had taken over the years led me to tell the story of a baby rather than of a hospital department, to make the newborn baby fighting for its life the hero of this tale. I wanted to follow a family throughout the whole painful process, the from traumatic birth to the liberating release from hospital, as if this emergence into the “real” world represented a second birth.

 

In the film, we don’t see much of the medical teams. Would you say their presence is both reassuring and worrying?

The medical team has a sort of divine presence, watching over the scene. I wanted the medical aspect to be present because it is an integral part of the daily life of these babies. However, although we see the medical staff from time to time, when it came to the editing, our natural tendency was to keep the doctors and nurses out of frame.

 

At first, machines are omnipresent in the life of the baby. Indeed, the noises of the hospital form a background hum that reinforces this impression…

I was fascinated by the aesthetic quality of all these machines. They contrasted so starkly with the organic life they were there to preserve. They highlighted the flesh and the body. I tried to look at the world from the height of the babies, kneeling down to see what they see, their environment, this sterile room in which life has to be hatched.

 

Is the main aim of your project to evoke sensory immersion with the child?

From the outset, I worked on somewhat aquatic associations, the cosmogonic visions we see at the beginning of the film. I wanted to evoke the original womb, what happens before, because I think that the extraordinary strength these babies have comes from there.

When shooting started, we immediately focused on the babies. Because of the great friendship I developed with the mother, Laurence, her presence in the film naturally grew. The film starts at baby height, plunged in their perception, and gradually we turn to the mother, as if passing to the other side of the umbilical cord. This is the logical outcome when following a baby: it is enfolded into the family.

I wanted all the attention to be focused on the fundamental needs of the babies: eating, sleeping, skin contact, putting on weight, breathing. They are like characters in a war film, fighting for their primary needs, for survival. We look at life in its most basic essentials.

 

The situation gives rise to an inevitable suspense. Was this tricky to deal with?

Filmmaking is, in essence, cheating. In the end, we recreate many things, we reinterpret reality. Of course, much of what we see is real, but there is a deeper truth that cannot be reached by simply reproducing reality. It has to be done using the bag of tricks the cinema employs. For me, the border between fiction and documentary is much more permeable than it is generally considered. The idea was not to describe day-to-day life in a neonatal unit but to suggest a sensorial, immersive approach to the daily life of a premature baby. I think people should be taught to cheat more in film school. Luckily, there is always staging!

 

Regarding the visual treatment, the images are very soft, contrary to the reality, which is much harsher…

We asked ourselves: what is the baby’s point of view? One of the tutors I met in the EDN Workshop told me: “You are working with a new, unknown language, no one knows how a baby sees. You can let yourself go, enjoy yourself, mess around.” The cameraman and I opted for a blurry image and the use of a hand-held camera (using a stabiliser) to create movement, a floating sensation. This contrasts with the drama, the tragic aspect of the story. I felt that his suggestions were subtle and gave an impression of softness, of an inbetween state that seems to correspond to the visual acuity of babies. This blurry perception gradually disappears and the world of the twins becomes more and more sharply focused as the children emerge from their limbo.