Director: Lucia Small, Ed Pincus
Rating: Unrated (equivalent to an R for language.)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Date: May 13, 2015
Small Angst Films and First Run Features.
Written by: Lucia Small and Ed Pincus
Until I was offered the opportunity to see One Cut, One Life, I had never heard of filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small. Collaborators since 2002, they have worked together on short and feature-length documentaries, and met while serving on a film jury, finding they shared largely mutual interests and ideas on what comprises the best films and stories. They became close and Small, in turn, became close with Ed’s wife, noted author Jane Keats Pincus. And while the IMDb resumes may seem relatively short for both filmmakers, they have been prolific artists, collectively settling on an enticing premise for their next project together. Pincus had completed three full-length documentaries over a 45-year time period when he sat down with Small in 2012 to begin work on his fourth feature and a second with Small.
The concept? Tell the same story from two different perspectives. Simple enough. However, little did they know that this project would ultimately be Pincus’ last, and the emotional journey would be life-changing for both of them.
One Cut, One Life details the post-traumatic longings of loss and foreboding realization that our time alive is fleeting. After two of her closest friends were killed in separate, horrific incidents over a seven-month period, Small is informed that Pincus has been diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease, MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome). His condition is terminal, and he likely has one year left to live.
A surgery, which could perhaps buy more time is an option, but Pincus is unclear on what course of action he wants to take. What he does know is the opportunity to make another film with Lucia Small looks, seems, and feels right, much to the frustration and dismay of Jane, his wife of more than 50 years.
By focusing on the last year of Pincus’ life, he succumbed to his disease on November 5, 2013, One Cut, One Life adopts the mindset that all time is valuable. Lucia Small’s friends never got to experience what Pincus does: a bittersweet knowledge that your life is coming to an end. The filmmakers share more than their fair share of ruminations on what it means to be alive, to experience death and loss suddenly, and all the moments in between. Small’s final cut of the film intersperses the recitation of anecdotal writings and stream-of-conscious thoughts with confessional-style discussions and comments. If this all presents as dour or even morose, Pincus and Small are thankfully far too witty for that approach.
The personal histories each bring to the film are interesting. For Pincus, he is essentially considered the father of first-person, non-fiction filmmaking. His debut feature, 1967’s Black Natchez, brought to light the struggles and impediments among a group of African-American community members trying to organize and get out the vote in a volatile period of our nation’s racial history.
Later projects documented the end of a San Francisco hippie commune, the randomness of capturing complete strangers lives on film, and notably, in 1982’s 200-minute Diaries (1971-1976), Ed documents his family. his life experiences, the temporary break up of his open marriage amid the sexual revolution of the mid-1970s, and eventual reconciliation. In 2007’s The Axe On The Attic, his first collaboration with Lucia Small, they offer a sobering look at Hurricane Katrina victims and the anger, sadness, and despair that so many broken and distraught families experienced in the government’s unsatisfactory response to the crisis.
Small has worked on other film projects without Pincus, but they each profess a sense of feeling alive and energized when working together. For Jane, she understandably struggles with the idea of her husband’s latest film project. In one memorable scene, she compares the entire experience to being violated, initially using more blunt and direct language to the dismay of Ed and Lucia. And while Ed and Lucia claim to have never taken the carnal step in their partnership, clearly Jane has had to learn to share a bit more with Lucia then she is fully comfortable with.
Jane herself is a successful author and women’s rights activist. She crafted the iconic 1971 book “Our Bodies, Our Selves”, a groundbreaking resource on women’s health and sexuality. She is progressive, thoughtful, open-minded, but painfully needs that camera set down a great deal more than Ed and Lucia are willing to commit to. You can’t help but sympathize with her escalating resentment. Her struggles are visibly wearing on her and with the reality of his limited days remaining directly in front of her, we feel her anxiety and stress. And yet, we keep watching, curious as to where the rest of where the film is going.
While One Cut, One Life is directly tied into the reality that every living thing inevitably reaches an end, at times, this is a softly-bound look at living life as profoundly as possible. The asides and narrative choices can become a bit ponderous, but this is all very easy to get lost into. Despite the obvious affection Pincus and Small share for one another, coming at the sacrifice of a wife whose struggling with the fateful end to a 50-plus year marriage, it becomes difficult to not appreciate the film as a whole.
Under the auspices of celebrating life when faced with the reality of eventual death. One Cut, One Life walks a path we have traveled down before. The significance of the project may have more meaning to those involved than to us personally. However, the connectivity comes in recognizing the pain of loss and the understandable desire to preserve as much as we can of the essence of a loved one who will soon no longer be with us. One Cut, One Life has an eloquence which, at times, speaks volumes.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Compelling, raw, and honest depiction of a man’s final year, told by two people who truly have a deep connection on a personal and professional level.
- Basic in set up, Pincus and Small capture important reminders that when faced with death, life can still be celebrated.
- Those familiar with the filmmakers and of Jane Keats Pincus as well, will be drawn to take a shot with this.
- Gets a bit long in the tooth at 106 minutes. A few less thought bubble speeches and conversations and more on the emotions swirling around these three individuals would drive the point home more.
- Based on the connection that Small and Pincus have, somewhat at the dismay of Jane Pincus, you may find these individuals hard to warm up to.
- This is for discerning audiences only – cinephiles, anyone familiar with the people involved, those who seek out documentaries, and relish true, arthouse offerings. The mainstream appeal of a film like this is rather muted.