Review: ‘God Straightens Legs’

DOXA 2018

3 mins read

God Straightens Legs
(Canada, 70 min.)
Dir. Joële Walinga


Imagine your mother has cancer. You would want to do everything you could to help her, right?

Now imagine that your mother has considered her options for survival. She’s weighed chemotherapy against God’s will and has decided that she has a better chance with divine intervention than with radiation. That choice might not be easy to accept.

Director Joële Walinga bravely decides to spend as much time as possible with her mother, Renée, who has been diagnosed with cancer. She sits bedridden and literally waiting for a miracle as her daughter and the camera pensively watch the disease take over her body.

Walinga handles death and faith—two of the trickiest subjects one could encounter—with the utmost sensitivity as she respects her mother’s belief that God will play doctor for a day. God Straightens Legs is a film of quiet and painful observation. Walinga, ever-present but always off camera, sits with her mother in silence as she observes Renée continue her routines best she can from the confines of her bed. There are moments of strained and stilted silence as mother and daughter let Renée’s faith hang in the air. It is as tangible as a tumorous elephant in the room, yet Walinga doesn’t intervene aside from providing her mom with all the fixings for a dream bedroom. She simply observes with subtlety and grace.

Some moments of subdued observation take in Renée’s youthful spirit and sense of humour, while others watch as she shares her faith with other believers to gain strength through prayer. Long takes prolong Renée’s death just as much as they draw out her strength in spirit. As Walinga’s camera eye wanders around Renée’s sparse home and takes in dryly composed viewpoints of nicely manicured grass and banal suburban living, she objectively balances the potency and futility of faith.

There is one moment of jarring clarity in God Straightens Legs and it comes towards the end of the film as Renée visits a support group with fellow members of the faithful and other cancer patients. The camera darts around the room as speakers offer testimony of God giving them the strength to cast away cancer as if it were Satan himself. The camera pulls back and lingers on Renée as the cacophony swells and envelopes her. She soon finds herself consumed by noise as the varying opinions grow louder and louder. Perhaps this storm is God testing her will. It is a moment of revelatory filmmaking.

DOXA runs May 3 to 13. Visit DOXA Festival for more information.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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