Mademoiselle & the Doctor
In her thought-provoking examination of the right-to-die debate, filmmaker Janine Hosking introduces viewers to Lisette Nigot, a healthy, witty 79-year-old French woman living in Australia. Having accomplished all she wanted to do with her life, Nigot says she does not want to celebrate her 80th birthday.
For advice, she turns to Dr Philip Nitschke, an advocate for euthanasia for terminally ill patients. Hosking's heartbreaking documentary follows the relationship of Nigot and Dr Nitschke as they meet to discuss a 'final project.'
2004 - 89 mins - Color
Directed by Janine Hosking
Parental Guidance Suggested: Adult Language, Adult Content
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To view a film clip click YouTube below or on the DVD cover
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Mademoiselle and the Doctor is the 2nd feature documentary from Australian Academy award-nominated filmmaker, Janine Hosking.
While the film started off as a cinematic exploration of the workshops of Dr Philip Nitschke it soon changed focus to incorporate the intriguing and deeply moving story of Lisettte Nigot.
Ms Nigot is a French academic from Perth. She is 79 years old, healthy but does not want to turn 80.
Mademoiselle and the Doctor examines Lisette's decision to take her own life 'I've had enough, that really is the only thing' as well as her relationship with Dr Nitschke who says 'I encouraged her to suicide no more than I encouraged her not to take her own life. It was her decision.'
This provocative documentary asks us if elderly, rational adults have a right to determine the time and place of their own passing.
Lisette Nigot said she had lived enough life. Dr Nitschke asks 'who was I to tell her otherwise? She was not depressed. To the contrary, she was an intriguing, enchanting woman and while it saddened me greatly when she decided to leave, her suicide was her decision and her right.'
MADEMOISELLE AND THE DOCTOR (M)
AMID the public arguments over the quality of Somersault, the display of pride over Harvie Krumpet's Oscar, and the recent fizzle of both AFI and IF awards ceremonies, the best Australian film of the year has managed to sneak under just about every radar.
Janine Hosking's Mademoiselle and the Doctor is a documentary, but it is not in any of the non-fiction modes that are currently fashionable. It is not an aggressive, finger-pointing essay in the Michael Moore style. It is not a hyper-stylised ''dramatic recreation'' in the vein of Errol Morris. Nor does it strain to tell a heartwarming story with loveable characters, like so many contemporary documentaries eager to fit a television format.
If anything, the film fits into the more old-fashioned genre of the ''observational'' documentary, close to Nicholas Philbert's To Be and to Have. It takes its time, and risks a structure that demands strict attention from viewers.
Hosking traces the parallel paths of two people. The doctor of the title is the controversial euthanasia campaigner, Dr Philip Nitschke. The mademoiselle is a 79-year-old Perth resident, Lisette Nigot. She plans to end her life, and in doing so she will make use of advice from Nitschke. The film gently takes us to the occasion of their meeting and its aftermath.
This is a restrained, matter-of-fact, sometimes surprisingly humorous document. It avoids sensationalism and refuses to get hysterically worked up over its hot, divisive topic of assisted death.
In many ways, the film takes its cue from Nigot, a remarkable woman who talks candidly and tactfully about her splendid life. Her reasoning for wanting to end it all is simple and plaintive: she has achieved everything she intended to, and wants to die before the inevitable deterioration of mind and body. She answers the filmmaker's questions about her wish to die with disarming directness: ''Do I look depressed?''
Nitschke, on the other hand, is a man who can come over as cold and brusque. He is shown embroiled in the everyday tasks of his vocation, such as pulling over during a long drive to conduct an international radio interview on his mobile phone, or (in a wonderfully daggy sequence) testing the prototype of his death-assistance machine.
There is something a little comical about him. But, once more, the film takes its cue from Nitschke's own understatement, his unostentatious commitment to a profoundly humanist, compassionate cause.
There is something about the rhythm, the attitude, the balance of bemusement and stoicism in this film that is profoundly Australian. No other country or culture could have produced such a documentary with exactly this tone. In all the strenuous and sometimes spurious debate over the need to ''tell our own stories in our own voices'', this movie nails both a uniquely local story and a uniquely local way of conveying it.
Mademoiselle and the Doctor is a beautifully constructed piece of cinema, with a cumulative emotional effect that is rare in Australian film. I can only speculate that the reason it has not, to date, been more grandly embraced and acclaimed by the local industry is because of the intense discomfort inherent in the subject it broaches, and its refusal to indulge in facile moralising.
But great films invite us to ponder uncomfortable thoughts, and take us to places where, on first blush, we might rather not go. By this criterion, Mademoiselle and the Doctor is indeed a great Australian film.
Mademoiselle and the Doctor was selected for competition at the:
FIPA Festival - Paris - January 2005
Melbourne Film Festival July 2004
Silverdocs Film Festival Washington DC June 2004
Sydney Film Festival (World Premiere) June 2004
Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival November 2003
ABC TV screened a 55 minute version of the documentary on 5 June 2005 which was cut further before it aired because of "moral" objections by the presenter of ABC TV's religious/ ethics program - Compass - Geraldine Doogue. Film maker Janine Hosking was given no opportunity to veto this last minute editorial decision within the ABC ...
To view the segment cut by the ABC, click YouTube below