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'A Lion in the House'

A four-hour documentary portrait of children with cancer needn't work too hard to break the viewer down, and to its credit, A Lion in the House doesn't. Having secured the participation of the doctors and parents of five patients in the pediatric cancer ward of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert simply record the anguish that the disease inflicts, not least on the kids' immediate family members, who are faced almost daily with the excruciating decision of how much treatment—and hope—to maintain against an enemy as ferocious as cancer. The filmmaking is strictly point-and-shoot (and shoot and shoot), and perhaps in deference to the parents' hardships, there's no investigation of how terminal illness can affect families differently according to race, class, and other factors. Some of the deathbed conversation has such heartbreaking force that you feel you'll remember it for years. But the young patients, ranging in age from seven to 19, appear to possess calm, courage, and dignity in such supernatural supply that we can't help but wonder what may not have been included here. Even after four hours, we're left wanting to know a lot more—and with the sense that this desire may itself be one of those human strategies to cope with the overwhelming power of a most enigmatic and undiscriminating villain.


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