'One Cut, One Life': Film Review

Lucia Small
Deeply personal and unavoidably moving

Ed Pincus and Lucia Small's documentary chronicles the repercussions of his being diagnosed with a terminal disease

Documentary filmmaking rarely gets more personal than Lucia Small and Ed Pincus' collaborative effort chronicling the latter's final years after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. A fitting coda to Pincus' distinguished career specializing in first person non-fiction film, exemplified by his highly influential Diaries: 1971-1976, One Cut, One Life is often as uncomfortable to watch as it seemingly was to make. It's currently receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at NYC's IFC Center.

Lucia, 25 years Ed's junior, first collaborated with him on 2007's The Axe in the Attic, about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It marked his first effort in many years after retiring from filmmaking to become a commercial flower farmer.

But they resume their partnership after Ed is diagnosed with a fatal bone marrow disease. The news comes at a particularly difficult time for Lucia, who's still emotionally reeling from the violent deaths of two close female friends. One was stabbed to death in her apartment by her lover/roommate, while the other was struck by a car fleeing a robbery.

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The filmmakers' reunion is not exactly welcomed by Ed's wife Jane, who's deeply suspicious of their closeness and who doesn't particularly want their cameras intruding on her personal life during an obviously difficult time. She has good reason to be wary, as Ed and Lucia indeed have a very intimate if not physical relationship, with him saying that she needs her to love him. He also freely admits to his wife that he loves Lucia.

Divided into chapters labeled by the seasons, the film deals with matters both trivial—Lucia, unlucky in love, confesses a crush on actor Paul Giamatti, who she once briefly met, but she doesn't have the courage to approach him at a post-screening Q&A—and momentous, namely Ed's having to decide whether or not to try the "Hail Mary" option of enduring an operation that may prolong his life.

But it's the often tense interpersonal dynamics that provide emotional fuel to the proceedings, including an episode in which Jane runs tearfully out of the room after finding her husband and Lucia holding hands.At another point, Lucia tearfully tells Ed how much she fears having to watch footage of him after he's gone.

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As with many deeply personal films, One Cut, One Life—the title stems from an expression in Japanese swordsmanship--doesn't always succeed in being as interesting to viewers as its participants. It's also hard to avoid feeling voyeuristic when being exposed to Jane's insecurity and unhappiness. But it's undeniably moving at times, especially in its final section when Ed, who died in 2013, fully comes to terms with his mortality. He handles it, at least onscreen, with grace and dignity, clearly aware that this will be his last cinematic statement.

Production: Small Angst Films
Directors/screenwriters/directors of photography: Ed Pincus, Lucia Small
Producers: Ed Pincus, Lucia Small, Mary Kerr
Executive producer: Neal Baer
Editor: Lucia Small
Composer: P. Andrew Willis

Not rated, 105 min.