Presented with unflinching clarity, Eleonora Privitera’s Rebirth is a heart-wrenchingly personal insight into the hardships of caring for a loved one with cancer. The brevity and simplicity of Privitera’s documentary allows its subjects to fill the film with warmth and sadness in equal measure.
The film opens with home video footage of Sara and Vincenzo, the film’s subjects, happily in love. Immediately we are drawn in close, granted access to the intimate personal life of the couple. The videos fade to the title card, and then we cut to the film’s present wherein Vincenzo, bedridden, is wheeled into a hospital room. The sharp contrast from warm, joyful footage to the cold sterility of the ward is like a gut-punch, bringing us down to earth. Much of Rebirth works in a similar way, presenting the harsh truths of life with cancer with a brutal frankness. Sara empties Enzo’s ostomy bags into the toilet, and cleans his open wounds on camera. It is difficult to watch, but engenders a deep sympathy for Sara and Vincenzo themselves, who do not get the privilege to choose whether to watch.
The film does not dwell exclusively in bleakness, however, and its moments of happiness are truly touching. Vincenzo is charming and kind, winking to the camera and retaining an infectious sense of humour throughout. On one occasion he addresses Privitera directly, and Privitera’s smart decision to leave this moment in the film lets us feel closer to him. The film drops its formality, and for a moment becomes another home movie. Privitera’s interviews with Sara are sun-drenched, filling her profile with vitality and warmth, even as she describes the stresses of her role as carer. Although slightly incongruous, the setting of these interviews allows us to see her as more than just a carer, quite literally pulling her out from Vincenzo’s shadows.
Rebirth, though brief, invites us wholly into Sara and Vincenzo’s world and keeps us there. Privitera’s tangible presence behind the camera (even pointing it towards herself in the mirror) places you in her shoes, looking at her parents as if they were yours. This specific form of intimacy envelops us in the everyday sadness of cancer but also the warmth of unconditional love, which comes to a head in Rebirth’s beautifully touching final moments. Privitera, in a film that is somehow both intensely personal and universal, leaves the audience with the powerful notion that love perseveres through all.
'Rebirth' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.