Documentary | Film Analysis | Film Reviews | Massachusetts | New York

Death: A Love Story

1 Jun , 2000  

Written by Chris Cooke | Posted by:

A review of 'Death: A Love Story'

Michelle Le Brun and Mel Howard had been married less than three years when they discovered he had terminal liver cancer. Mel had lived his life as an actor, director and producer and had taught film at New York University and Boston University, and the couple had already established the habit of filming the events of their married life. It was only natural that they decide to film their effort to cope with Mel’s disease.

The resulting footage has been compiled by Le Brun in her documentary "Death: A Love Story." (Mel is given posthumous credit as executive producer.) The film tracks Michelle and Mel’s lives together, briefly recounting their marriage and subsequent move to Southern California, then progressing in more depth from their first consultations with doctors to Mel’s inevitable last breath. As the couple seeks desperately for the cure that is most effective yet with the least debilitating side effects, they get second and third opinions and even experiment with alternative medicine. Throughout, we see Mel candidly addressing his physical and emotional struggles.

Unfortunately, we also see a plethora of New Age images, with plenty of fiery double exposures and a recurring spiral of swirling rainbow colors, both accompanied by appropriately mystical music. Perhaps these things go over better in sunny California, closer to the Pacific waves, than in puritanical New England. (Le Brun’s film did go over well in California, taking home awards at both the San Francisco Film Festival and the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Outside of California, it received a nomination for Grand Jury Prize-Documentary at Sundance.)

But in spite of the New Age excess, Mel’s search for self in the face of death is engaging and thought-provoking. What begins as a search for a cure becomes a quest for a different type of healing. Surely, now, after all he has found, Mel is resting in peace.

Michele Le Brun’s ‘Death: A Love Story’ screens as part of the MFA’s Birth and Death on Film series on Saturday, June 4 and 10. For ticket information and show times, please call the MFA box office 617-369-3770.


Michele Le Brun's 'Death: A Love Story' screens as part of the MFA's Birth and Death on Film series on Saturday, June 4 and 10. For ticket information and show times, please call the MFA box office 617-369-3770.