I quote here a few lines of my 2013 post that dealt with the wonderful Intergenerational Film Festival Lumiere Blanche organised by the geriatrician Dr. Jean Jacques Depassio. The Festival is no more, but the DVD Wrinkles has been released in the USA and a friend asked my opinion.
‘There were two afternoon sessions for schools and the animated film Wrinkles (2011 – Translated as La Tete En L’air) directed by Ignacio Ferreras was screened to full cinema audiences of secondary school pupils and nursing students. Wrinkles deals with the admission to a care home of a man, Emilio, with early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The different issues are very sensitively and sometimes humorously treated. But I will not dwell or analyse the film which is very strongly gendered. There is no important female presence as resident or carer in this knowledgeable film. I found it difficult to engage since my interest in and the purpose of this blog are, on the whole, the ageing woman. However I was left puzzled as to the function of this deliberate exclusion.”
I decided to examine my first reaction to the film now that the DVD is available dubbed in English or subtitled. Indeed the film is not ageist, or sentimental. It addresses many issues of caring for the old with early symptoms of dementia in a subtle and knowledgeable manner. I am no expert in animation but the facial expressions of Emilio the main character with early Alzheimer’s were wonderfully drawn. They conveyed a variety of feelings : being present and aware, being pleased, being lost, being frightened. Flashbacks to childhood were very appropriate and I liked the falling leaves and the opening and shutting gates to the care home, the change of seasons.
I recognised my father in his early dementia . He also blamed people for robbing him when he had forgotten the unlikely places where he secreted his possessions. I recognised him also in Emilio empathising with other residents, when his language reflected his professional career, when he trusted completely some people and feared others. Of the care home I also recognised the unit for dependent residents. In our case the unit was in the basement, and not upstairs. It was talked about with fear and was out-of-bounds to most people. Dolores who fed her husband in the meal scenes was also familiar and so was Miguel’s comment that she should have a right to a life of her own. Other touches where as real in this animated film as in a documentary. The long wait to be helped to go to bed, the mistakes in medication, the long silent empty corridors, the sitting room with chairs along the wall seating dozing people, the doctor and psychologist interviews.
The two people with no signs of early dementia are Miguel and Antonia. He is a jolly fellow who extorts money from the confused residents. She is a sad deluded woman. In spite of having a very big family, she insists that she chose to be in the home in order not to be a burden. Her only very rare visitor is a grandson. I recognised in her my mother who always put in her bag the non consumed little packets of jam, sugar, tea etc… We found in her wardrobe a shelf packed with hundreds of these little items.
In spite of these and other well researched details I felt uncomfortable. Ethnic diversity was only seen among the staff. In nearly every shot that showed a group of residents there were half as many women as men. The three caring nurses were male but there was a waitress in the dining room. The doctor was male and so was the psychologist. To me what is unforgivable are the 3 minutes long physical exercise sequences. Big breasted and with a prominent bottom, flaming red hair and a whistle to direct the exercises, the Occupational Therapist is a sexual caricature and the humour is derived from the salacious gestures, smiles and improper touches of the residents. Miguel anyway was always making sexual jokes.
I look superficially at the glowing reviews on the usual sites. Not one of them picked up the sexism of the film. Sexism by omission mainly. It seems churlish to criticise a film that has so many subtle insights into the challenges of caring for old people suffering from dementia. A film where Miguel develops a friendship with Emilio. A film where one of the main characters starts by exploiting the confusion of residents and finishes by caring for them. But one cannot help being intrigued by the predominantly male atmosphere of the film when it is common knowledge that there are more women than men in care homes, that carers are more often women, that occupational therapists are usually extremely sensitive to their patients. Was this intentional I ask myself? or a prime example of sexism?
I would appreciate any comments from women who have seen the film.