FAMILY JEWELS, which showed at Filmfest Kansas City on September 6, is an uproarious black comedy based on director and writer Robert Schwentke's bout with testicular cancer. With a M.A.S.H.-like irreverence for the medical profession, Schwentke attacks the taboos of death, balls, and cancer, with a deft absurdist touch. The Clash-inspired original soundtrack sets the tone. The film takes place almost entirely in a Berlin hospital, and is stylishly shot in bluish tones. It focuses on the main character's attempt to retrieve his post-op cancerous testicle. The heist is carried out by three twenty-something bald men attached to their rolling chemo-dispensers. The director uses auxiliary sound to great effect, from the snap of the doctor's latex gloves, the drip of the chemo drugs, or the screams of the horror videos preferred by the protagonists' roommates.
Schwentke is able to draw out amazing performances from his actors, particularly the main character, whose face registers dismay, fear, disgust and will-sometimes in a single shot.
Perhaps because it is autobiographical, the film shows great wisdom in how family members react to news of a life-threatening illness. The film finds humanity in the hero's refusal to let disease define him, and in the connections he forms with a waif-like female cancer victim and his two hospital roommates.
Not for the squeamish, the film is graphic but tasteful. And while the medical treatment seems-thank goodness-quite dated, the humor and characters are not.
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