Hot Docs 2015 Review: A Woman Like Me
The process by which someone accepts into his or her life the undeniably prospect of terminal illness can likely take an infinite number of forms. Alex Sichel took it to mean creating a documentary about her therapy, both western and holistic, as well as fabricating a fictitious version of herself.
Sichel is the co-director of A Woman Like Me (with Elizabeth Giamatti), the subject of it, and the writer behind the story within the film. Her breast cancer diagnosis leads her to turn the camera towards herself, following her treatment as well as a new inspired endeavor. She imagines a fictionalized version of herself, a capriciously-named Anna Seashell who has also been diagnosed with cancer, but deals with it in a different way; it’s how Sichel accepts her cancer.
There are two separate ways the viewer experiences this curious, tender film. Firstly, there is the human component: an intimate, heartbreaking, honest tale of someone enduring a terminal prognosis. It just happens that person is filmmaker. The camera finds her face in full view, with Sichel pondering away, incredibly self- aware while entirely earnest.
Secondly though is the storytelling conceit. Sichel goes through the mental and physical processes of dealing with cancer while writing and directing a film on her own, one in which she enlists the talented Lili Taylor to play her. Sichel deftly maneuvers between the real life story and the dramatized one.
Because of the fictionalized narrative, the film keeps a whimsical tone throughout, even when that story and the real one head towards the dramatic and tragic. It happens that Sichel is a clever and talented filmmaker while also being an interesting subject in her own right presenting portrait that will surely connect with many viewers.