Before Flying Back to the Earth review by Tom Blain

The introduction for Before Flying Back to Earth is interesting, as it brought back memories of the introduction to Full Metal Jacket; although the two films couldnt be more different. A young boy, not even 10 years of age, is sitting in a chair with a full head of hair. Since its a documentary the lad is very aware of the cameras presence. The electric sheers then begin to drop locks of the boys hair left and right. The boys eyes grow wide and he gently hides a smile as he anticipates a first glance of his new buzz cut (contrasted against the expressionless robots in Full Metal Jacket). In both films, the people receiving the hair cut are doing so enter into a life changing event. In Full Metal Jacket they are entering military training. In Before Flying Back to Earth the boy is undergoing cancer treatment.

Before Flying Back to Earth is a 50 minute documentary about the children at a leukemia center in Lithuania. It focuses on the children and their experiences in dealing with leukemia and how they adapt to hospital living. There are interviews with the families of the children and doctors, but most of the movie is spent with the children. There are scenes that show what they go through with the doctors (treatment), what they eat (boring food in metal containers), and where they live (hospital beds). But the movie also shows them playing games with other each other and running down hallways. At times the children are so full of life, and smiling and having fun that for a moment you forget that they have life threatening illnesses. Its not until you see a child is crying due to a shot, or a boy vomiting due to chemotherapy that the reality of their situation sets in again.

The movie is careful to never talks about a childs death, nor does it discuss mortality rates associated with leukemia. The director Arunas Matelis made a conscious decision to not discuss these things and instead to show the children dealing with their situation at the moment without intrusion from the doctors. To put a number on their chances of survival would remove humanity from the film and be focusing more on death than life.

Where Matelis excels is at letting the children be themselves in front of the camera. These are the moments that set this movie apart from most other documentaries/TV-shows on similar subjects. One of the moments that sticks out the most for me is where one of the younger boys is running down the hallway in the evening playing Spiderman. He appears to be all alone other than the cameraman as he shouts and jumps off of the walls, acting like he is throwing a web at the camera. Normally this is not the type of behavior you would expect from a sick boy, but Matelis shows the boys childlike spirit is alive and well even if the boy himself is ill. These kids know they are sick, but that doesn't stop them from enjoying what they do have.

Before Flying Back to Earth is a mix of sad and funny, that leaves the audience to ponder what will become of these poor unlucky children and what can be done to help them. It is reassuring to see that the children are indeed very strong and willing to fight the disease but one can only imagine the outcome. The film has a certain lightness to it though, that is reflective of the children's youthful and optimistic spirit. Before Flying is a short film that I had the opportunity to see at the European Union Film Festival in Chicago off the heals of its 2006 Directors Guild Award for the director Matelis, and hopefully it will find its way to DVD for a wider audience.

To check out an interview with Director Arunas Matelis click here.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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