Truman takes a playful tone with a heavy topic

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      Starring Ricardo Darín. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      The title character of this perfectly scaled chamber piece—winner of more than two dozen festival prizes so far—is a dog who connects the main threads of the story.

      The humans here are played by two of the finest actors working in the Spanish language: Pedro Almodóvar regular Javier Cámara and Argentina’s leading man, Ricardo Darín. Recently seen as the owlish John Lennon fan in Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, Cámara plays Tomás, an Argentine-turned-Canadian college lecturer who leaves wintry Quebec to visit lifelong friend and fellow expat Julian (Darín), an actor who found middling success in Madrid.

      Only dimly aware that Julian has lung cancer and has been making noises about killing himself before the disease can do it, he wants to talk Julian out of it, but the latter, a force of nature who can utterly disarm the smarmiest funeral director, drags him along on various missions to wrap things up. Pretty soon, the visiting lecturer isn’t at all sure what to say.

      A theme like this is usually heavy going, but Truman’s tone is playfully philosophical, even downright comic at times. Writer-director Cesc Gay (pronounced “guy”) provides a steady stream of interesting side characters, each appearing just once, except for a volatile cousin (Delores Fonzi) who has a shared history with Tómas. And the beautifully shot and elegantly edited film, underscored by piquant guitar music, keeps changing locations, most notably to Amsterdam, where Julian gives an emotional farewell to his grown son (Oriol Pla).

      The dying actor still has to find a home for his aged dog, and there’s a reason that pooch is not called Jefferson or Eisenhower. Our dual leads also anchored Gay’s previous film, A Gun in Each Hand, and once again he and cowriter Tomás Aragay are primarily concerned with what it means to live and die with authentic masculinity. In this case, it’s obvious from the start where man’s best friend will end up. But how you get there is always what matters.