I Am Celine Dion documentary review: Deeply moving and unflinching portrait of an artist | Hollywood - Hindustan Times

I Am Celine Dion documentary review: Deeply moving and unflinching portrait of an artist

Jun 25, 2024 11:56 AM IST

I Am: Celine Dion finds the singing icon facing the camera at her most vulnerable moments, as she comes to terms with the diagnosis of Stiff Person Syndrome.

Celine Dion needs no introduction. Her powerful love ballads echo across generations. Even at her highest notes, she always remains in control. The singer tries to exercise that capacity during one unforgettable point in the new documentary on her life and career I Am: Celine Dion. She tries, but her voice barely touches that abandon. She knows it, and lays this demonstration bare, without an ounce of ego. At the wake of her diagnosis of Stiff Person Syndrome, which is a rare neurological disorder, the film lets go of any one-sided view of the singer taking a reflection, along with well-wishers, family and friends. This film finds her voice anew, with unflinching honesty and grace. (Also read: Exclusive interview: I Am Celine Dion director Irene Taylor says, ‘I did not make the film for the fans’)

Celine Dion is vulnerable like never before in her documentary I am Celine Dion.
Celine Dion is vulnerable like never before in her documentary I am Celine Dion.

Directed by Irene Taylor, the documentary begins with Dion in pain, processing what is happening to her body each passing second. She had first shared the news of her diagnosis via a December 2022 Instagram post. The cinéma vérité approach here is extraordinary, as we see Celine share her experiences, her fears, anxieties, the contradictions; all of it, in a raw and unscripted flow. The film also makes it clear that the only voice which matters here is that of Celine. So, there are no tendencies to take on celebratory and nostalgic reminiscences from friends and family members in front of the camera. Celine faces the camera throughout, responding to herself and to her viewers with raw emotional clarity.

It helps that Celine has a treasure trove of archival footage from her earlier days, stage performances, studio recordings, and public appearances; which demonstrate, in brutal contrast, the balletic and winsome agility the singer always possessed. Irene uses these materials excellently, working to the strengths of cinematographer Nick Midwig and editor Richard Comeau. The cross-cut between the earlier footage and the present therapy sessions, in particular, are never overdone. These anecdotes and reminders of power even in those moments of pain, are deeply moving.

It all culminates into a harrowing sequence that takes up most of the second half of the narrative, as Celine goes to record for a song after two years. She tries again after a faltering note, apologizing and starting over. Her expectations from herself has not altered. Yet, it results in a spasm in her body, which then take a horrific shape, as she experiences a seizure. Her therapists rush in. She can barely move. The camera stays on, steadfast and carefully distant. It is as raw and excruciating it can get, and the camera itself seems unaware where this would lead to. I gasped and held by breath in these final moments. Thankfully, there's a comeback, and the singer stands up.

I Am: Celine Dion is that rare documentary of a celebrity that finds the living, breathing entity behind the façade of dazzle and drama. Here she is simply Celine, a woman coming to terms with her immediate reality. A woman who happens to be a singer, who loves her fans and cannot wait to go on stage. A woman who will not give up. As deeply upsetting as it gets, this documentary is a rush of power and resilience.

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