The Mermaid and the Magic Lotion

Save Sandra

Directors: Jan Verheven & Lien Willaert

Cast: Sven de Ridder, Darya Gantura, Rosalie Charlies, Charles Aitken, Kaisa Hammerlund, Christopher Dane

Running Time: 100 minutes

This film is in Flemish, French, Dutch and English with English Subtitles

Despite this film being a true story, the co-directors of this interesting Belgian film Save Sandra Jan Verheven and Lien Willaert have created quite a schizophrenic narrative.

Is this film about Palliative Care? Is this film about the media? Is this film about the evil multinational drug companies that create orphan drugs to treat rare diseases?

Aspects of Save Sandra are beautifully told, centering on the heartbreaking plight of the parents of six year old girl Sandra who receive the shocking diagnosis that their only daughter has a rare muscular degenerative disease. The parents are a young couple in Belgium, William and Olga Massart played by Belgian actors Sven de Ridder and Darya Gantura and Sandra is played by Rosalie Charles.

Olga is devastated that her daughter could possibly die within a year, while her energetic husband William decides to investigate every drug available to arrest Sandra’s degenerative disease coming across a rare drug which has not been properly patented in Belgium.

William and Olga travel to Copenhagen and then to Rotterdam to plead with the drug company to allow Sandra to qualify for this orphan drug, however the problem lies in the prohibitive cost per dose in Euro’s, which is money the young couple do not have.

To complicate matters further, the original drug company gets bought out by a massive multinational company based in Basingstoke in the United Kingdom. So the film’s action moves from Belgium to the British countryside and the white cliffs of Dover.

William Massart starts raising funds for Sandra’s treatment through various events in Belgium soon attracting media attention and even that of the Belgian Princess. Unfortunately, the more awareness he creates about his daughter, the worse Sandra gets, quickly becoming confined to a wheel chair.

The best parts of the film are the bed side stories that William, a devoted father tells Sandra covering up her muscular disease in fantasy and fairytales about princesses and mermaids, wonderfully illustrated through animation.

Save Sandra is worth seeing although at times the subject matter is heavy going especially regarding the entire story being about a sick child that isn’t going to recover. Unfortunately with two directors, the film lacks a unifying version and becomes a much lesser version of similar films like 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil or the Oscar winning The Constant Gardener in 2005, which expertly tackled the lack of ethics associated with big multinational drug companies.

Based on a true story, Save Sandra is an interesting Belgian film but it is not brilliant. It gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

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