Not All Is Vigil


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Hermes Paralluelo: 'I'm very interested in portraying the feeling of when your energy is getting lower and you're thinking you're near to death'
"Ageing, Paralluelo observes - for the elderly as everyone else - goes on, even when we fear it might not."

Ageing is a curious beast. We all do it and gripe about it and yet somehow the inevitable end result - death - is a thing that we have a tendency to think happens to other people. But blessed is the person who, in the small hours of the night, an off day or in a moment when they see an elderly person sitting by themselves on a bus, has not experienced the fleeting fear of what it might be like to die sick, alone or both.

It's become something of a regular theme in cinemas too, with a plethora of films in recent years - as diverse as Poetry, Wrinkles and Friends With Benefits - all tackling Alzheimer's, in particular. This backdrop adds to the refreshing nature of Hermes Paralluelo's second film - a docufiction hybrid with the emphasis on narrative, which shows the trials and the strengths that can come with growing old with your mental faculties intact, even as your physical health is failing.

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Paralluelo's grandparents (Felisa Lou and Antonio Paralluelo) play fictionalised versions of themselves, as the writer/director explores the way in which a 60-year marriage can form an unseen bond and tension between two people that seems almost to manifest itself physically when they are apart. Beginning in a hospital, with Antonio in bed and Felisa trailing slowly in his tracks through Escher-like empty corridors, Paralluelo sets the tone. There is something absurd about the way Felisa seems to follow in Antonio's wake, often taking a wrong turn or having to backtrack, but there is a dogged and touching determination about it too. Walking is an effort for Felisa - emphasised at one point when we see how swollen her feet have become, although she never complains. Paralluelo and his DoP Julian Elizande mimic her pacing when the camera later travels alone through a corridor in Felisa and Antonio's home - which though much shorter than the maze of the hospital, takes on similar tensions.

If walking is tricky, everyday items are worse. An alarm clock becomes a wilful wild animal - resisting programming, blaring in the middle of the night and stubbornly refusing to be silenced - while even a simple pack of kitchen matches poses a logisitical challenge. Absurdist humour and melancholy perform a square dance with love and fear in Felisa and Antonio's lives, a place where climbing the stairs can be an act of heroism.

Conversations between Antonio, his wife and other bit players (all non-professionals playing versions of themselves) often come almost as monologues. There are shades of Alan Bennett in the film's dead pan humour, which shows life can be cruel and comical simultaneously.

Sometimes people simply talk at crossed purposes, at others there is a recalcitrant refusal to engage - not unlike that alarm clock. Paralluelo knows how to use noise to shock an audience into feeling the same confusion as the characters and the sound design by Federico Disandro is exemplary. When the alarm blares out we long, like Felisa, to just flick a switch and turn it off, but as with everything in the film, things only come at her pace. This means there is a lot of time for us to think about what it means to be infirm and have to pace corridors, to ignored by others or how coffee making can become a marathon. There's also plenty of time to consider connections and how the strongest bonds can make an inner noise as loud as a klaxon if they are threatened.

This is nonetheless a hopeful and humanistic film. Ageing, Paralluelo observes - for the elderly as everyone else - goes on, even when we fear it might not.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2014
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Docufiction study of an elderly married couple.

Director: Hermes Paralluelo

Writer: Hermes Paralluelo

Starring: Antonio Paralluelo, Felisa Lou

Year: 2014

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Spain

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