New Film Combines Fiction and Reality to Paint an Honest Picture of Breast Cancer

A Woman Like Me” follows Alex Sichel as she learns to live with the reality of her terminal breast cancer. Sichel passed away in June 2014, but her perspective on life is beautifully rendered in the film, which she co-directed with Elizabeth Giamatti.

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Sichel initially saw the project as a fictional movie with a character facing a diagnosis identical to hers, Giamatti told The Mighty. Sichel had doubts about the authenticity of fiction because she wanted to create a deeply personal movie. As the team began filming in 2012, the structure of the film took shape. “A Woman Like Me” subsequently blends Sichel’s experiences with the story of a fictional woman, Anna Seashell, who copes with the same diagnosis.

Anna acts as an outlet for Sichel to express her opinions and discuss topics relevant to her life, such as parenting, death and faith. In one scene, Anna recklessly abandons her diet — she wants to enjoy rich food and wine in the time she has left.

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Anna’s sassy character adds humor and levity to the movie and her scenes are beautifully intercut with footage of Sichel’s life.

“When you can’t change your circumstances you can still change your emotional and spiritual response,” Giamatti told The Mighty. “It’s human nature to want to change your situation, [Sichel] was trying hard to reverse the course of her illness and find a way to live somewhat peacefully with it.”

Liz & Alex on set

Cancer can be a taboo subject. “We’re all so scared of it,” Giamatti said. “[Sichel] took a raw subject and tried to transform it.”

“A Woman Like Me” does not shy away from the graphic realities of medical treatments or the morbidity that comes with a terminal diagnosis; the camera follows Sichel to chemotherapy treatments and doctor’s visits.

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Although the film revolves around cancer, Giamatti told The Mighty she hopes the movie can “resonate with an audience that’s not just people who have cancer or chronic illnesses.”

“It’s a movie about the imagination and how to cope with difficult situations,” she said.

“A Woman Like Me” debuted at SXSW March 16th. Watch the trailer here.

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