Losing someone to death is a harrowing experience by any estimation.
So harrowing in fact that Tomás (Javier Cámara), married and living in Canada, and one of the central characters in director Cesc Gay’s Truman, has strenuously resisted visiting his terminally-ailing actor best friend Julián (Ricardo Darín) in Madrid despite the fact that time is fast running out to say his last goodbyes.
It is only at the urging of his wife that he makes the trek home to Spain where he is greeted by a typically ebullient but surprised Julián, who is unaware that his cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi) has organised the much-delayed reunion.
In characteristic fashion, Julián, who remains on stage even as he battles end-stage cancer, isn’t on the backfoot for long, declaring almost immediately that the two old friends will have a grand time of it over the next four days that Tomás is in town.
His ebullience and Tomás‘s supportive sangfroid is however tinged with a great sadness that runs deep but is rarely acknowledged by the two men, much to Paula’s frustration.
A series of critically-important decisions made by Julián in the face of his ever-encroaching illness only serves to heighten the differing approaches by Tomás, who is determined to be there for his friend (even when he disagrees with him which is often) and Paula, who nonetheless sharing a close friendship and a desire to serve the best interests of Julián.
It is the titular character of the film, Julián’s dog Truman who is in many ways, the central pivot by which every languorous narrative twist and turn moves.
He is essentially, to use a modern term that Julián would likely not object to such is his devotion, a “fur baby”, the second child to much-loved Nico (Oriol Pla), whose welfare becomes the dying man’s overriding concern.
This means that instead of four days packed with self-indulgent bucket list activities, which is what you expect the film of this ilk to take as its focus, we are instead subsumed into the minutiae of planning for looming death.
Over the course of an all too-short visit, which is funded entirely by an understanding Tomás who at every stage is calmly accepting of his friend’s career-induced penurious state as is of many of Julián’s gregarious eccentricities, we are taken to a slick corporate funeral director, the vet, the oncologist and even to Amsterdam to visit Nico, interspersed with relaxed lunches and dinners at which Julián rails against the way in which people treat you differently when you are terminally ill.
In one instance he confronts the acquaintance and his wife, who pretend not to see him and make ludicrously inconsequential small talk when Julián calls them on their actions while in another a man whose wife he slept with comes up to him and expresses great empathy, much to Julián’s delight and relief.
Every stop on the unusually banal but companionable journey Julián plans for the two men looks at first flush like the simple ticking of boxes that anyone wanting to tidy their affairs would take.
But while seeing the oncologist and funeral director makes perfect sense given the circumstances, and the need for Truman to find a good home the sort of thing any loving pet owner would want, dig a little deeper and it becomes obvious that this is Julián’s way of involving a friend who has always been at his side in the closing weeks and months of his life.
Circumspect though Tomás is through much of the film, the odd moments when he challenges Julián – these interludes rarely result in any substantial conversation, shot down in short order by Julián’s unwillingness to brook any opposition to his controversial plans – are the only times the two really comes to disagreement.
Faced with Julián’s implacable will and his clearly-articulated plans for his all too limited future, and many years of friendship that suggest there is nothing to be gained by fighting his friend decision-by-decision, Tomás takes on the role of the supportive other, the one who will do what his close friend asks even if it pains him to do so.
Truman is a perfectly-wrought film, the screenplay by Cesc Gay and Tomàs Aragay capturing with exquisite sadness and agony what it is like to be both the dying and the friend of the dying.
Anyone who has ever lost anyone close to them will readily identify and be deeply moved by the narrative which unfurls with such languorous stealth that you don’t appreciate the film’s full emotional intensity until it knocks you back in your seat.
It’s obvious from the word go that both Tomàs and Julián are grappling with seismic emotional shifts but neither can come close to fully articulating them and so much of the profound emotional resonance of this deceptively calm film lies in the unspoken moments, the quiet acts of stoic companionship, and of one friend’s willingness to simply be there at the very end of another’s life when being alone is often the last thing you want.
The final scenes come with a hefty emotional price tag as both men realise that this is it, and life will never be quite the same for either of them ever again, and that when Julián does eventually pass away that Tomàs will be the torchbearer for a friendship which has been an anchor for them, the very foundation of their lives.
It’s hard to walk away from Truman without a tear or two in your eye as you reflect on the fact that even when death is omnipresent and seemingly consuming everything, it is ironically life that comes to the fore and that the wise among us will choose to focus on it and its still limitless possibilities while ever-diminishing time remains.