There are only so many directions you can go when you’re making a documentary about drug addicts … who happen to be family members. “Just Say Know” takes a surprisingly fresh turn, though, as filmmaker Tao Ruspoli lets his father, brother and mother tell it as it is. There is nothing sappy here, and there are no anti-drug stances taken. Instead, you have a family of creative, smart, friendly folks who happen to be one-time (and current, in the case of Tao’s brother, Bartolomeo) addicts.
Much of the film’s focus is on Dado Ruspoli, an elegant man who lives in Rome and speaks as if every sentence is part of some larger poem.
(That could be because he’s also a poet.) He went from heroin in the days of the war to opium, and it’s obvious that the latter drug is his mistress as he extols its virtues all while showing off his opium bed, pipes and special headrests. He makes the drug seem almost magical, and has nothing but contempt for chemically harsh drugs like cocaine, crack, heroin and cigarettes.
Tao’s mother, Debra, also did opium (along with other drugs). In fact, she did much of it with Dado. Now, like Dado, she is clean with no regrets. She admits it was hard to kick the habit, but it was her son and his unending concern for her that helped her get through it. Now she has a new love for life and is open about her past.
If there is any tragedy here, it is Bartolomeo, and that’s only because he has yet to get clean. He loves his cocaine and heroin, and by the end of the film you realize he’s trying to straighten out, but you can tell he will have a hard time of it.
Tao, the oddball of the family, is not an addict, and that lets him use his skills to paint a decidedly comfortable picture of the people he loves. He has nothing but respect for them, and it shows. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that this faceless filmmaker couldn’t be who he is without being raised by these people.
Anti-drug crusaders will say this film is dangerous because of things like Dado’s romance with the pipe and Tao’s refusal to show the dark side of addiction. The truth is, though, that not every addict ends up dead in a hotel room. Some get off the drugs and go on to lead very productive lives with no hang-ups. This is a family of people like that. Looking at the mother and father, you’d never suspect — not even for a second — that they were drug addicts.
This is the best short documentary to hit the screen in some time, and you owe it to yourself to see it.