Take a deep breath. Unless you have cystic fibrosis, this is probably something you take for granted. About halfway through the documentary “65_Redroses,” which documents the life of CF sufferer Eva Markvoort, you might find yourself gasping for air, if only to relish in your ability to do so. “65_Redroses” refers to Eva’s online handle with which she communicates with other CF patients, and her connections with them are an integral part of her story. But the spine of the film belongs to Eva, as she is such a compelling and arresting persona from the outset that audiences can’t help but be drawn in by her.
Filmmakers Nimisha Mukerji and Phillip Lyall began following 23-year-old Eva with a camera while she was in the hospital waiting for a lung transplant, and was told by doctors she had only two years to live. The young Vancouver woman is clearly so full of life on screen, even when she is so frail and sick it’s almost unbearable to watch her suffering. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs — imagine having a horrible bronchial infection for your entire life until you die, far too prematurely. Eva is a person who seems too vibrant, has too much to say, too many things to do to have this slow her down, and the first half of the film documents this contradiction of sick body, healthy spirit.
“65_Redroses” is a film that never gives anything up to the viewer. You’re never sure if she will get the call for the transplant, if she will survive, if the lungs will take. There is a real sense of immediacy to the proceedings, and the audience gets swept up in the story in real time, experiencing everything minute by minute with Eva and her family. The filmmakers capture some truly astounding moments on camera — Eva’s pager going off and her tearful call to find out if she has donor lungs, after almost a year on the waitlist. Or her surgeon kneeling down to pray in the locker room before performing a double lung transplant. These are unprecedented, unfiltered images that will haunt you after the film ends. Every subject is uninhibited and open before the camera. Eva lays every bit of her soul out online, and she never leaves anything unsaid or unfelt, even squeezing in one last “I love everyone” before going under for surgery.
If anything, the subplot about Eva’s online friendships pales in comparison to her story. Kina and Meg, two American CF patients who become close to Eva online, offer useful foils to Eva’s story, as Kina has already had a transplant and Meg is a punk fuck-up with an older boyfriend who seems to only be ushering herself closer to the already very close death’s door, ignoring her meds and smoking pot. One can see why it was an important aspect to Eva’s story, but the powerful connection that online communication can offer disparate people like this is not what you take away from the doc. While the online motif seems a bit heavy-handed and forced at the outset, it thankfully fades away towards the end of the film, allowing for Eva’s spirit to shine. While Kina and Meg fade to the background, the real message of the film reveals itself: never stop living, loving, doing or breathing, because it’s all we have on this planet for this very short time.
“65_Redroses” is an incredibly moving and inspiring film because of the presence of Eva Markvoort. The directors were lucky to be able to capture her on film for every moment that they did, and we as audiences are lucky to be able to bear witness to her story as well, and maybe learn a little something about CF, organ donation, and living every moment to the fullest. Appreciate that breath. [B+]
“65_Redroses” premieres on OWN on Thursday, May 3rd at 9 p.m. EST.