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Review: The Third Option


- The interesting documentary by Austrian filmmaker Thomas Fürhapter explores the world of antenatal diagnoses, pondering where the boundary between normality and disability lies

Review: The Third Option

The Austrian filmmaker Thomas Fürhapter has a master’s degree in philosophy, something that is certainly apparent in his first documentary feature film, The Third Option [+see also:
film profile
(for which he also wrote the screenplay). Following its world premiere at the CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, and having done the rounds at several international festivals, Fürhapter touches down at Bergamo Film Meeting to screen his film in the Visti da vicino section. A documentary which, in demonstrating the dramatic decisions made by couples faced with the prospect of having a disabled child, ponders what is considered normal in modern Western society, as well as the dark side to freedom of choice and other controversial ethical issues, with a deep and thoughtful plot that doesn’t hint at provocation. 

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"Antenatal medicine is the only branch of medicine in which we are allowed to kill," says one of the doctors interviewed, who we only hear but don’t see in the film (the same applies to all voices we hear, brought to life by actors). The images that flow before our eyes for 75 minutes are layered over these voices (that of a man and a woman about to have a child, doctors and psychologists) and are almost like paintings, rigorously composed and often filmed with fixed shots, introducing us to hospitals where screenings are carried out and children are born, shops full of toys and strollers, hyper-technological gyms, crowded water parks, more often than not creating contrast as the narration progress: ironic one minute and dramatic the next. 

In modern western society, antenatal diagnoses are carried out in 85-90% of pregnancies, and in cases in which anomalies are detected, over 90% of people opt for abortion – a decision that falls mainly to women, who in the name of acquired self-determination are forced to choose between a disabled child and a dead child, while 50 years ago – we are reminded – a disabled child was destiny, you just had to accept it. But where does the boundary between normality and disability lie? Where does the intention to avert enormous suffering end and eugenics begin? What does freedom of choice mean in a society that does not accept diversity? What if society was more inclusive and accessible?

Thomas Fürhapter’s articulate narration proceeds by contrasting images and voice-offs. While talking about disability, we see beautiful healthy children doing gymnastics, running marathons or jumping into the pool (the first disabled boy only appears halfway through the film). We see a baby being born, in all its essential crudity, and soon after we hear in detail how an abortion takes place in the sixth month, a chilling account that reveals things we thought we knew, but that we clearly don’t know enough about. Emotions and reflections stir as Fürhapter’s documentary embraces bio-political themes and investigates the ethical and emotional impact of very difficult decisions, all while maintaining an appropriate distance and occasionally reversing the perspective (perhaps an obsession with the physical form, antenatal classes and having newborns do gymnastics is normal?). In a very subtle way, and without judgement, but with a great wealth of images, the film leaves the audience with many questions to ponder.

The Third Option was produced by the Viennese outfit Navigator Film. International sales are being handled by the London-based company Taskovski Films.

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(Translated from Italian)

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