Films: Oxygen

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Oxygen  {Adem}


Belgium, 2010, 98 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Drama, Medical/Health, Romance
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Language: Flemish English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Hans Van Nuffel
Producer: Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, Dries Phlypo
Editor: Alain Dessauvage
Screenwriter: Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, Hans Van Nuffel
Cinematographer: Ruben Impens
Principal Cast: Stef Aerts, Wouter Hendrickx, Marie Vinck, Anemone Valcke, Rik Verheye, Maarten Mertens

The young protagonists of this minutely observant drama from Belgium are living on borrowed time: they are all suffering from cystic fibrosis, an incurable genetic disease that inexorably destroys the lungs. Without double lung transplants, many victims die in early adulthood—“before our parents,” as one twenty-something points out, struggling for breath.

This could be relentlessly grim subject matter. But thanks to director Hans Van Nuffel, writer Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, and a spirited cast, Oxygen has buoyancy as well as tragic grace.

Within the walls of a huge seaside hospital—and occasionally in the streets of the city or on a strip of chilly, fog-shrouded beach—the Van Dam brothers, Tom (Stef Aerts) and Lucas (Maarten Mertens) share all the exuberant urges of post-adolescence even as they silently contemplate their long odds of survival. But their outlook is soon altered by the energetic, cocky newcomer named Xavier (Wouter Hendrickx) who has burst into their midst. Although Xavier has CF, too, he drives a Porsche, boasts about his underwater photography and triathlon training—and, in short, seems full of life.

Love stories form subplots: Xavier's girlfriend, Anneleen (Marie Vinck) is determined to have a baby before she dies, and Tom, who hears the clock ticking, conducts a heartbreaking romance through a wall of glass with a playful but quarantined tuberculosis patient (Anemone Valcke). Van Nuffel also examines Tom's friction with his parents and a major drug heist from the dispensary. But he never loses sight of his most compelling theme: youthful dreams crushed by the cruelty of fate.

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