Director Hope Litoff conducts a searing inventory of her sister’s life in the stark and unflinching documentary “32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide.” A documentary film editor, Litoff puts herself on camera while attempting to ask the question that bedeviled her sister through years of mental illness: “Why?”
Litoff’s sister, Ruth Litoff, was a talented photographer and artist, a beautiful and sensual woman who created beautiful and sensual artwork — large format photographs of flowers, dioramas and tchotchkes, street portraits, collages and nude self-portraits. Despite all the beauty in her life, she was tormented by depression and suicidal thoughts, attempting to take her life dozens of times before she succeeded in 2008.
Six years later, Hope finally faces her grief and plunges into Ruth’s storage locker, searching for answers in journals, date books and plastic tubs filled prescription bottles. As she documents this process, she also documents her emotional unraveling as she confronts her feelings about her sister’s death.
Through this unvarnished and sometimes brutal soul-baring process, Litoff ultimately achieves an expression of her grief that is palpable and feels true to the viewer, even if you’re not a part of the “elite club” she mentions of people who have lost loved ones to suicide.
While “32 Pills” is a devastating depiction of the effect suicide has on families, it’s more so a heartfelt tribute to her sister’s work and the connection that they shared. In memorializing her sister’s life, she keeps her presence alive, sharing that gift and that sorrow with her viewers.
‘32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide’
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena