MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR
In an outback shed in the Northern Territory, Dr Philip Nitschke builds his prototype death machine, the Co-Gen. The euthanasia campaigner and former physicist is determined to devise a peaceful 'do-it-yourself' way to die. Meanwhile, in Perth, feisty 79-year-old, Mademoiselle Lisette Nigot plans her suicide. Perfectly healthy, the French born academic does not want to endure "the horrible decrepitation of old age". Nitschke is single-minded in his determination to assist in 'peaceful deaths' and the cameras follow him as he conducts his controversial suicide workshops throughout Australia. Equally determined in her choice to die, Nigot recounts episodes from her glamorous life-from mixing with Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys, during her time working at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, to her various lovers and libertine lifestyle. Finally the two protagonists meet to discuss Lisette's lethal concoction of drugs. Three weeks later Lisette Nigot suicided.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Quality of Death might be an alternative title for this film. The elderly Anne is attending an Exit seminar run by Dr Nitschke; she speaks to camera with tears in her eyes as she explains why she is there. She talks of the quality of dying as being a logical extension of our seeking quality of life. Dying with the minimum of suffering and maximum of dignity, both to oneself and to family and friends. Anne's quiet and brief plea is one of the cornerstones of this outstanding documentary, a film that deals with one of the most misunderstood, confused and morally hidebound issues of modern life: euthanasia.
The film should be compulsory viewing for all the well meaning but profoundly misguided souls who campaign against legalising euthanasia. I'll happily declare my bias: I am unshakeably in favour of euthanasia on compassionate and moral grounds. This film confirms the reasons why I think it is the moral and humane way for contemporary Western societies to empower those who have reached the end of their healthy and dignified life as unique individuals.
Hosking's film is at once frank and sensitive, and with great clarity she explores the issue to create a fuller context in which she can tell the specific story of Lisette Nigot, who simply wants to die before she starts falling apart and losing her mind. The film runs through her life, to also put her in context: we get to learn of her life on both the logistical and spiritual levels. In other words, we discover her personality, a bright, intelligent and very happy person, who has had a highly satisfying life. And as she tells Hosking, she's not depressed or unwell even two months short of 80. But she doesn't want to live into her 80s and become frail, "dragging a useless body around as an object of pity, perhaps."
Hosking also recalls the case of Max Bell, a decade or so earlier, who was dying (badly) of stomach cancer, and went public with Nitschke to underline the case for legalising euthanasia. It's a heartwrenching example of the needless trauma that misguided well-meaning does to the many who died so painfully.
The major difference between Lisette Nigot and Max Bell: Lisette wanted to die before she got sick. Max wanted to die before he had to endure any more pain.
This is an issue that the film could have dissected more, in the place given to the magazine style coverage of Nitschke in America, for example, and the details of his death machine, interesting as these are. These somewhat extraneous elements also disturb the natural flow of the central story about Mademoiselle Lisette. Her simplified approach doesn't address the social and moral issues, which leaves the film open to criticism for glorifying the cause of euthanasia without tackling the hard issues.
But perhaps the reality is that most opponents won't listen to humane and reasoned arguments anyway. Yet one hopes this film will reach those who do have an open mind and open heart, enough to at least listen and look. Not like John Howard PM, who is shown in a tv grab after Lisette's death, saying he doesn't think we should "encourage healthy people to take their own life," which is an unintelligent remark from anyone, let alone a PM. Nobody encouraged Lisette. And that's the whole point.
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MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR ( MA)
CAST: Documentary featuring Dr Philip Nitschke, Lisette Nigot
PRODUCER: Janine Hosking
DIRECTOR: Janine Hosking
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Craig Watkins
EDITOR: Janine Hosking
MUSIC: Paul McNamara, Don Walker, Gary Steel, Rex Goh and Steve Hopes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/A
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: I Kandy Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Darwin: November 21; Melbourne: November 25; Adelaide: November 30, 2004. Sydney & Melbourne to follow.