A brilliant pharmaceutical researcher named Dr. Louise Nutter receives a phone call on a Friday afternoon. Because one of the fields she investigates is cancer treatment, Nutter has already diagnosed herself with cancer; the call simply confirms what she already knows. A drinker and smoker, Nutter faces the prospect of either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
But the narrator and cameraperson of "The LuLu Sessions" tells us up front, the disease can't simply be pared out of Nutter's body. A year and quarter after she receives that phone call, Dr. Louise Nutter--"LuLu"--will die.
The filmmaker is S. Casper Wong. She, too, is a brilliant woman--she has "an engineering degree from an Ivy League school" and she's weighing her options for graduate study: medical school? Law school? She opts for law school, but she could have just as easily been a doctor. It was during a summer internship that Wong met Nutter, and the spark that created an intense friendship between them was reignited years later when they met once again. Both were in relationships with men, but both began to contemplate a life together. Wong, meantime, gives up her law job and goes into filmmaking.
It's unclear just how far the two women progressed toward a romance, but this film documents what can fairly be called a love story. Nutter and Wong are best friends, but they also have heated arguments, not the least of which center around Nutter's drinking. When the cancer diagnosis comes along, their relationship is frayed. But the disease doesn't drive them apart, as it seems to do with Nutter's two youngest sisters; rather, Wong and Nutter embark on a wonderful, brave, and often touching journey, with Wong documenting their relationship, and Nutter's declining health, on videotape.
Nutter's body may be succumbing, but her mind remains bright. She's sometimes troubled, sometimes sad, but always remains quick-witted, and the film refuses to gloss over or sweeten either Nutter or her disease. At one point, Nutter and a grad student are playing with a Geiger counter to see just how radioactive her medical treatments have made her; later on, Nutter is delighted and relived that her insurance company has agreed that her disease is terminal. The fact that this also means one more institution has consigned her to death doesn't seem to bother her; "I think it's going to be an experience," Nutter says, unabashed, as always, by Wong's camera. "Up until I croak," she adds, a beat later.
That grim stripe or humor carries the film and keeps it from being depressing. We might wish for Wong to share a little more of herself here--when Nutter asks about her current love affair, Wong announces that she's shutting off the camera, which seems just a trifle unfair given the intimacy of the portrait she's made of Nutter.
Nutter died in 2001, three months before 9/11; that Wong persisted and prevailed, her film finally coming to completion and exhibition a decade later, is in itself a testament to the power of love and friendship.
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Screening At Reeling 30 ::