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Review: Secret Ingredient a sad, bleak yet heartfelt and genuine look at health care

“This movie looks fun,” is what you’re already thinking.

Stop right there.

Secret Ingredient is a good movie, but fun it is not.

It’s the synopsis that gives a false impression. This is a film about a son who slips marijuana into some cake for his ailing but cannabis-averse father. The cake turns out to be a miracle cure, and the son gets a reputation as a miraculous healer. Ha ha! See? Sounds fun!

And yes, there are the expected bits about dear old dad giggling with his buddy, and going fishing while forgetting to take his fishing rod. But that’s not the main thrust of the story, and this is not a comedy. Instead, Secret Ingredient gives us a grim look at health care, crime, violence, despair, fatal illness and grief.

Vele (Blagoj Veselinov) and his father Sazdo (Anastas Tanovski) are still reeling from the loss of the rest of their family (Vele’s mother and brother) in a tragic car accident. Shortly after the accident, Sazdo’s lung cancer first appeared, as though the old man wanted to follow his lost loved ones. Treatment has been cut off, the family can’t afford the medicine, and Vele comes home one day just in time to stop his father’s suicide attempt.

When a bundle of stolen drugs comes into Vele’s possession, it isn’t some big lucky windfall, but rather a dark secret that invites savage beatings and paranoia at work, where gangsters are searching all the workers for their stolen stash. Even after the cake works its magic, it still doesn’t fix Vele’s relationship with his father, who can only think of the son he lost rather than the one who survived. The few funny moments stand out in a sea of bleakness.

Despite some happy moments (including the ending), this is a sad, angry film, which effectively rails against an uncaring health care system, and the quacks who fleece desperate people with promises of cure-alls. It’s heartfelt, genuine, original, and well worth seeing. Just don’t expect a comedy.

Secret Ingredient screens Friday, Sept. 28 at 9:10 p.m. at Eau Claire 1 and Sunday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Globe Cinema (downstairs) as part of the Calgary International Film Festival. For tickets, please go to calgaryfilm.com.

John Tebbutt is the Video Vulture. He has been writing about obscure and ridiculous cinema since 1997. You can keep up with his nonsense on his websiteFacebookTwitter and through episodes of a program he’s doing with NUTV.

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