I knew this film was going to be strong and memorable. It is not the first Coming-of-Age drama about the sensitive issue of a child death I have seen. The Last Snows of Spring, Matching Jack, Oscar et la Dame Rose and Planta 4a live in my memory with their emotional content. The 2010 coproduction of the United Kingdom and Spain, Ways to Live Forever touches one mainly because its protagonist – the twelve-year-old Sam (Robbie Kay) who has been diagnosed with leukemia — narrates his own story.
While some may argue that the mantle “Coming-of-Age” can only be applied to a story if its characters have completed the transition from childhood to adulthood, in stories that deal with the terminal illness of a child — possibly because of the limited time involved in the child’s life — that progression still takes place, and often in a much more poignant and expressive manner.
Interestingly enough, one can learn a lot more about life in a film whose story deals with imminent death than in films whose stories recreate the common experiences of people. Speaking about the book he is writing about his own life, Sam shares his concern: “Books are just about kids saving the world or getting beat up at school. Who is going to be interested in my story? “. But, really, his is a story about friendship, first love, interpersonal relationships ( in and outside the family), the meaning of suffering, the existence of God, the spiritual strength of youth and the injustices of life. Who wouldn’t be interested in it?
Films with a Coming-of-Age thematic may be generalized by some in the same way Sam does it in the film. But it is his story that stays in the hearts and minds of people fortunate enough to get acquainted with it.
Robbie Kay as Sam in Ways to Live Forever
The magnificent performances of the cast are yet another reason to view this film. Robbie Kay‘s acting is immaculate. Prior to Ways to Live Forever, I had only seen him as Pinocchio in the 2008 Alberto Sironi TV film. The comments I made in my Pinocchio review, about the sincerity of his acting and his convincing expressions, hold valid for this film as well. Given that the role of Sam is even more challenging and demanding than that of Pinocchio, I can safely conclude that Kay’s performance in Ways to Live Forever is among the best child performances in the entire Coming-of-Age genre of cinema. And the rest of the cast, child and adult alike, all delivered strong performances in support of the young Mr. Kay’s wonderful portrayal.
The cinematic qualities of the film are also in line for praise. The usage of theatrical cardboard scenes to illustrate the imaginative world of the young protagonist impressed me with its creativity and effectiveness on one’s perceptions. This technique made the symbiosis of reality and fantasy life feel authentic, a true part of the film’s story – something at which many directors fail. Reinforcing the sentimental tonality of the scenes, the musical score is comprised predominately of English language songs. The one notable exception is the final song, which is in Spanish, but it played its role without calling too much attention to itself.
Knowing that the film is an adaptation of a novel, I was surprised by the completeness of the story. More often than not book adaptations fail to engage the audience in a manner similar to the written story. But even though I’ve yet to read the novel of the same name, written by Sally Nicholls, I’m positive that this film adaptation is an exception. Without a doubt, it’s a brilliant screenplay by the Spanish film’s director, Gustavo Ron.
Ways to Live Forever is an excellent film and I recommend it highly. It’s one of the first films that I have seen three times in a row – each time discovering different nuances, and wishing that I could somehow answer just one of the many questions the young protagonist of the film asks when sharing his story. I should probably acknowledge that a member of my family is going through a similar experience to Sam’s and that might have influenced my impression of the film. Yet I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed and are likely to refer to Ways to Live Forever as one of the best films you have ever seen.
Ways to Live Forever Trailer
Film Title: Ways to Live Forever
Also known as: Vivir para siempre
Release year: 2010 – El Capitan Pictures, Formato Producciones S.L., Life & Soul Productions
Director: Gustavo Ron
Cast:Robbie Kay,Alex Etel,Ben Chaplin,Emilia Fox,Greta Scacchi,Eloise Barnes and others