Measured Aussie docu “Mademoiselle and the Doctor,” although lacking adequate background on Down Under “Dr. Death” Philip Nitschke for international auds, nonetheless breathes new life into ongoing flap over euthanasia. Docu neatly sidesteps moral issues to focus on medico’s work with 79-year-old Perth-based Frenchwoman Lisette Nigot, a perfectly healthy free spirit and proud atheist who took her own life in November 2002 after consultation with the doc and three weeks of filming. A solid fest entry, controversial subject will pull curious auds and fuel biz in arthouse runs and ancillary appointments.
First seen granting a radio interview while on the road and later tinkering with a dangerously malfunctioning prototype of his death machine, the “Co-Gen,” in his far-flung Northern Territory garage, Nitschke comes across as ploddingly earnest and unshakeable in his beliefs. In point of fact he’s a lightning rod of controversy over the assisted suicide issue, with inventions such as the “Exit Bag,” “Peaceful Pill” and detailed how-to “Exit Workshops,” suggesting ways around the anti-suicide law enacted in 1996. A sojourn to the U.S. under the aegis of the Hemlock Society provokes both controversy and a standing ovation from assembled members; interestingly, Yank counterpart Jack Kevorkian, currently doing 10-25 years for giving a patient a lethal injection in 1999, merits one brief mention and apparently has little or no relationship with Nitschke.
Meanwhile, Mme. Nigot reflects on her life and discusses the reasons for choosing death. Feisty and independent, she parlayed two postwar years at the U. of Chicago into a whirlwind gig doing PR for the New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, where she rubbed elbows with celebrities of the day. But now, “I don’t feel free in my physical life anymore,” she says quietly but firmly. “I might as well go while the going is good.” That she does, signing a final missive “That should do it,” and leaving an answering machine message explaining, “I’m sorry, Lisette has gone on a trip and will not be returning.”
Helmer Janine Hosking displays both an innate understanding of narrative structure and admirable restraint, slyly utilizing Billie Holiday’s “These Foolish Things” to place fervent beliefs of opposing camps in wry perspective. Tech credits are fine. Preview vid caught had title “Mademoiselle Nigot and the Doctor,” with proper name dropped for the SilverDocs, Sydney and Melbourne fest documentation.