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I am Céline Dion (and you are not)

In the Prime Video documentary, the Canadian singer is seen in tears, trying to overcome the reality of her condition, which is holding her back from performing. And, when we think we have seen it all, we see the star paralyzed by muscle spasms in six minutes of terror

Celine Dion
Céline Dion, in an image from the documentary 'I Am: Céline Dion'.Amazon Prime Video (EFE/Amazon Prime Video)
Paloma Rando

Neither The Zone of Interest, nor the fourth episode of Baby Reindeer, nor Joe Biden’s stumbles during the debate with Trump were the most distressing minutes I have spent in front of a screen this year. The most agonizing scene I have watched this year is from the documentary I Am: Céline Dion. It’s not because I’m unaware of the horrors of the Holocaust and need a course on it like John Galliano, nor because I’m unaware of sexual abuse or of the danger looming once again over the world’s leading power. It is because the images that reveal physical pain awaken something primary, instinctive, visceral.

I Am: Céline Dion is directed by Irene Taylor. In the Prime Video documentary, the Quebec singer tells in first person how she deals with stiff person syndrome, a rare neurological disease that has stopped her from making music. We see a broken Céline in tears, trying to overcome the reality that is preventing her from following her vocation — a reminder of the importance of not putting all the eggs of happiness in the same basket. And when we think we have seen everything, including the giant warehouse where Céline keeps her enormous collection of dresses, shoes and furniture — reminiscent of Deborah Vance’s sweeping closet in Hacks — we watch as the singer suffers an intense medical crisis. Céline’s body stiffens, and she is unable to speak or move anything other than her left hand. She uses this hand to communicate, via touch, with the people who administer the medicine and return her to a certain normality. Six minutes of terror.

First-person singer documentaries are a genre in and of themselves. There are even unintentionally parodic ones, like Five Foot Two, by Lady Gaga, where the New Jersey singer plays the bride at the wedding, the child at the baptism and the dead man at the funeral. I Am: Céline Dion has the best and the worst of this openness. It is devastating as far as her illness is concerned, and at the same time, satirical as only documentaries about millionaires can be. I Am: Céline Dion contains two realities, and the collision of these two is even more evident when you take into account that the director was nominated for an Oscar for her short documentary, The Final Inch, about the effort to eradicate polio in India. Diseases of the poor and diseases that only the rich can alleviate. Céline Dion has — or used to have? — a supernatural ability, a rare disease (only one person in a million suffers from it) and an ostentatious lifestyle. What a relief it is not to have any of the three.

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