Belgium, The Netherlands


Tom (Stef Aerts) and his brother Lucas (Maarten Mertens) are young men who suffer from cystic fybrosis, a genetic disease that slowly destroys their lungs. Tom is struggling to cope with his short life expectancy and hangs around with a gang of hoodlums. In the hospital, he meets Xavier (Wouter Hendrickx), a young man suffering from the same illness but behaving like a top athlete. Xavier is a confirmed optimist, even when he is dumped by his girlfriend Anneleen (Marie Vinck). Tom takes in Xavier’s energy and joy of life. He roams the hospital grounds and falls for the charms of quirky Eline (Anemone Valcke), who has been quarantined for months due to an infection. They are not allowed to touch and can only talk to each other over the phone. Yet, they start a romance. When Tom’s brother Lucas dies during lung transplantation surgery, Tom is inconsolable. He seeks refuge among his rough friends, avoids Xavier and breaks up with Eline. But one day, he again crosses Xavier’s path who gives him back his taste for life… OXYGEN is compelling, romantic, funny and heart-breaking. It’s a drama about having little time and not wanting to miss out on anything.

Director's Statement

The films that have made a difference in my life are those where you feel a certain necessity. Stories that are charged with an emotional truth so strong it resonates long after the credits have rolled. The main characters in OXYGEN are two young men who struggle with their mortality. They’re cystic fibrosis patients and have been pushed around a lot at a young age. One of them prefers a life in denial, rather than facing his demons head-on. The other, arrogant and proud, constantly pushes his limits beyond his capacities. Both are fighters in their own way and their fates are forever intertwined. What interested me most was the precious balance between hope and despair, the fear of what is to come infused with the manic energy of a shortened lifespan. Commenting on my own experiences as a CF patient proved to be key element in developing the script. By polarizing and staging my own inner conflicts, I made a lot of abstract fears more palpable somehow. It’s something that the cast and crew intuitively picked up on while shooting the film. Their willingness to dive into a universe so utterly unknown to them was heart-warming. I sensed we were on to something potent once we entered post-production. It felt fresh, somehow, this story about young bodies with old souls. In the end, OXYGEN proved to be a celebration of life, however ironic and unfair it might sometimes be.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Hans Van Nuffel

Written by: Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, Hans Van Nuffel

Produced by: Marleen Slot, Leontine Petit, Joost De Vries, Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, Dries Phlypo

Cinematography: Ruben Impens

Editing: Alain Dessauvage

Production Design: Steven Liegeois

Original Score: Spinvis & Geike Arnaert

Main Cast: Wouter Hendrickx, Marie Vinck, Anemone Valcke, Rik Verheye, Maarten Mertens, Stef Aerts

Nominations and Awards

  • European Discovery - Prix Fipresci 2011