Giant Pictures
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Will Battersby
Cast: Mallory Smith, Diane Shader Smith
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/27/21
Opens: January 21 in Theaters. January 25, 2022 Streaming.

Life is a crapshoot, isn’t it? When you’re born, you don’t know when you will (inevitably) die. If you live to 90, you’ve beaten the house. If you acquire a dread disease at birth, at age three, or if you know you will not reach anywhere near the average life expectancy (78 in America for men, 82 for women), you are emotionally anguished and may suffer greatly as the organs in your body begin to lose function. “Salt in My Soul” is a documentary that looks at a single case of suffering, of that of a woman who died at twenty-five and whose diagnosis of cystic fibrosis virtually guarantees that she is will not live past her mid-thirties. The memoir, “Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life,” which is advertised on Amazon and which has been edited down from twenty-five hundred pages saved by the autobiographer on her computer, has been exquisitely adapted for the screen.

Cystic fibrosis, you see, is a serious lung disease in which mucus is trapped in the lungs, eventually working its way toward deterioration of that vital organ. To save an afflicted patient from the suffering of breathlessness toward the end of her life, doctors will hook her up with a ventilator which, in cases today of Covid means that the patient has a twenty percent chance of living.

Director by Will Battersby in his freshman feature, opens on three-year-old Mallory Smith at the time she has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Throughout her early childhood, she is required to take times out twice daily for exercise therapy, whether wearing a vest that compresses the torso to encourage the release of mucus or having to tolerate her father many thumps on her chest to do likewise. Still she accepts her fate with a resignation unusual in people that age. Signaling to convince the theater audience that she will go on to write a brilliant memoir, noting that her mother early on published a book “Mallory’s 65 Roses,” for children—whose would have trouble pronouncing cystic fibrosis but presumably would settle for the similarly-sounding “65 Roses.”

Mallory comes from a well-to-do family which has enable her to travel several times to the island of Maui, where her symptoms magically disappear—something like the way asthmatics get relief by moving to Arizona. But she will find no such luck if her aim is a permanent cure. Her friends at Stanford, where she is admitted months after her delivery of her high school valedictory speech, look at her: an outgoing person who excels in sports like volleyball and swimming, and are sure that she is a picture of health. “Looks are deceiving,” Mallory mournfully tells us, and we will get to see segments of her regular admission to hospitals, once after coughing up 250cc of blood (nine ounces). She engages in clinical trials, none of which are successful. She will get a lung transplant, also not a panacea, and will die shortly before phages, meant to kill superbugs and developed in Japan, have a chance to reverse her dread disease.

Mallory employs a metaphor, comparing the breakdown of her body with the current destructive influences on our planet, as witness the historic first of a tornado that has destroyed a small mid-West town and left dozens dead or homeless.In a heartbreaking conclusion, members of her family, friends, and professors take part in separate locations reading parts of her book, which will remind you of a similar conclusion in the great sci-fi movie “Fahrenheit 451.”

This is so far removed from the typical disease-of-the-week entry that it can be recommended highly to lovers of good indies. In will be appreciated not only by people who suffer from cystic fibrosis or, for that matter, any serious affliction, and loved by all who can appreciate solid, classic cinema.

96 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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