Dr. Garcia: “Do you practice safe sex?”
Elena: “I don’t practice. I’m very good at that.”
To pay the bills for her impoverished family, Elena Ramirez sells her body to strangers in the seedy drug dens and backrooms of Santo Domingo. What her patrons don’t realize when they first glimpse her pretty face and firm body is that this otherwise healthy-looking twentysomething will likely soon be dead. Elena has a severe heart condition, called dilated cardiomyopathy with chronic systolic heart failure, in which her defective valves and arteries force her heart to work too hard to pump blood to the rest of her body.
When Elena is rushed to the hospital one night after suffering heart failure, she has the great good fortune to meet Dr. Mario Garcia, chief of cardiology at Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care in the Bronx, who has flown back home to the Dominican Republic to volunteer at the hospital that has admitted Elena. She had consulted unsuccessfully with many doctors by this point, so Elena is understandably skeptical of Dr. Garcia’s bold plan to save her life. But if Dr. Garcia’s plan is to succeed, there is a catch: She must get a visa and move to the US for treatment.
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road) and starring Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) and Academy Award nominee Demian Bichir (A Better Life), Corazón is the real-life story of a woman with a death sentence who is rescued by miraculous timing and the compassionate physician who won’t let her give up on herself. The 48-minute short is produced by Montefiore Health Systems, in conjunction with Serial Pictures and Emmy Award winner JohnXHannes NY, and it trots out all the glitzy craftsmanship of top-flight filmmaking in the telling of a poignant tale of salvation through the intersection of dedicated people and state-of-the-art medical technology.
Hillcoat skillfully uses techniques such as minimalist lighting, strategic shot selection (by Academy Award nominee Bradford Young), a wistful score (by Academy Award winner Atticus Ross), and lots of metaphor to depict the bleakness of Elena’s circumstances and the desperation that will come to grip her as tightly as her failing heart. As Elena ritualistically steals away to the sea, to float in its vastness and temporarily escape the crushing weight of her everyday life, it is as if she were simultaneously trying to crawl back into the womb. Yet, as she submerges herself beneath the Caribbean’s languid sunset waves, the sea transforms into an analogue of her own heart, initially seducing her with the promise of life-affirmation but later threatening to drown her instead. (Heart failure can cause the lungs to fill with fluid, creating the sensation of drowning.)
To heighten awareness and maximize Corazón’s reach, Montefiore financed an award-winning cast and crew worthy of Hollywood.
After an emotionally charged confrontation in the visa-application office between Elena and the bureaucrat who initially rejected her application, Elena ultimately gets her visa and arrives in New York. Once in the care of Montefiore’s cardiology team, Elena is fit with a portable device, about the size of a handbag, which keeps her heart pumping oxygenated blood while she awaits a permanent transplant. (Spoiler alert! According to a Montefiore spokesperson, the real-life Elena is still alive and doing well.)
Perhaps due to the demands of qualifying for the short-film category, Corazón comes to a somewhat abrupt end once Elena arrives in New York and would have benefited from just a little more post-procedural screen time. Otherwise, it comes as no surprise that Corazón won multiple awards at this year’s Cannes Lions festival, including the Grand Prix top prize in Health & Wellness and was a finalist for the Tribeca X Award at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. The “X” Award honors the best storytelling that represents the fusion of advertising and entertainment. According to Montefiore representatives, there are 115,000 patients in the US currently waiting for a life-saving organ donation. Fewer than half will receive one, and 22 people die every day waiting for one.
This affecting cinematic campaign by Montefiore reaffirms the notion that at its best, advertising is a legitimate art form in its own right. When that art form not only raises awareness but also saves lives, it becomes something even greater than that.