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Hanging On By A Thread (review)—“The ghost of Kandinsky rides”

Created by Noémie

Black Panel Press, December 2021

A ZEPHYROUS tilt downhill moves HANGING ON BY A THREAD along at a gentle pace as brightly colored scenes gleam past. The art in this 2022 biopic story by and of Noémie, coming of age in her twenties in Lebanon, looks like chalk drawn on snow, or in the many splendid panoramic views out and about in the city, let’s say just for fun, let me try to describe this again, maybe like three or four rainbow syrups drizzled in rapid strokes over the dome of a snow cone just before it melts.

Then unfailingly for 240 pages she gently tilts the page and diverts you with scattered details, snatches of conversation, bits of humor, and ongoing affection as she and her family, friends, and doctors deal with the drama of her having cancer and its side effects. The basis of the story is the episode of her illness, in and out, aiming to survive five years. The topic should be a downer, I know, yet the zephyrous tilt whispers along, stay with me. One falls in love with the place and the pace gliding by.

The gloom of hospital hallways and waiting rooms is lifted by the light feeling in the colors, blunt lines, and snowy textures melting into abstract patterns. Every place radiates emotions rather than cluttered physical space. The details of her first catheter entering near her shoulder in a series of close-ups are sharp enough to see the prick, yet skewed enough to look like it’s fun. Looking backward, she does a wonderful job turning the whole affair into something to laugh about, or at least to smile poignantly at the saddest parts, touched with grace.

Given her first scan, she says, “I saw my cancer on that screen for the first time. It surrounded my heart. Preventing the catheter from accessing my aorta easily. It wanted my heart for itself. But it was mine and I don’t like sharing!”

Not totally true, of course. She is clearly devoted to sharing with us. Against cancer, though, point taken. Later she decides to ally with her body instead of charging her youth account with fast living as she had done before; you and me together body becomes a new resolution.

Trying to stay young and cool through all this looks easy for a little while. Then a rough patch. “Seeing my hair fall out, I realized I was losing control,” she sighs in a blue funk. As she slims and weakens, she asks her naked reflection in a full-length mirror: “How can you still feel attracted to me?”

On a mandala she designed to describe the contours of her condition, bands of side effects and fear are matched, though not subsumed, by bands of returning strength and a good mood. This is halfway through. There are more rough patches ahead, which you will have to see for yourself, trailing her on a downhill slope around curves. There are many touching lines and a forthright attitude laying bare her personal life and feelings intermingled with events, trivial details, and encounters that shape her environment, always surrounded by family.

“I’m allowed to embellish our shitty reality a little!” she exclaims to her ex-boyfriend near the end, commenting on her artwork, which she evidently shared with family, friends, and internet companions along the way. For me, I remember feeling somewhere near the beginning as if I had been coming toward her from a long distance and she to me, and happy at last to meet and see where we were headed.

[Editor’s note: this title is available at ]