Isabel Coixet's Elegy (92 screens) is a "disease-of-the-week" movie. I hate "disease-of-the-week" movies, but I really liked Elegy. I also liked Coixet's previous film, My Life Without Me, which was also a "disease-of-the-week" movie. Sarah Polley's beautiful Away from Her from last year was another excellent example. This begs three questions: What is a "disease-of-the-week" movie? Why do I hate them? And what makes Elegy so good? The phrase "disease-of-the-week" was coined to describe a certain type of TV movie some decades ago, which had addicted housewives sniveling and crumbling up tissues at their TV tubes for two hours every seven days. But filmmakers quickly snatched upon the formula as a quick and easy way to weasel their way into film critics' hearts, and probably win an Oscar or two.

Disease is an unfortunate part of life, but it's a part of life that no one likes to think about. What usually happens when we get sick? We avoid going to the doctor! We hope it'll go away. So why do people like these kinds of movies, movies that acknowledge our own mortality and frailty? I think the secret is that the most successful of these movies play up the disease angle, but the real subject is the heroism of the others, the people who are not sick. That way, the disease gets center stage, and some "courageous" actor gets to show off, while the audience gets to identify with the other characters, the ones who stand by their friends and family. The ones who don't give up.

categories Columns, Cinematical