Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"A thought-provoking consideration of ageing from the perspective of the elderly that is, perhaps ironically, hard to forget."

Dementia, and particularly, Alzheimer's are an increasingly urgent issue for the developed world and this has lead to a burgeoning number of films on the subject. From Catalan documentary Bicycle, Spoon, Apple - which charts the mental decline of the former president of Catalunya Pasqual Maragall - to Sarah Polley's Canadian tale of love and memory lost, Away From Her, and Lee Chang-dong's consideration of the nature of forgetfulness, Poetry, everywhere in the world where the population is ageing, there are filmmakers considering the impact of memory loss.

But while Arrugas might be joining this chorus of concern, it does so from an unusual perspective. Because Ignacio Ferreras' feature - based on the award-winning graphic novel by Paco Roca - is animated, he has much more freedom to explore the impact of memory loss from the perspective of his characters and is able to illustrate not just their everyday lives but their innermost thoughts. The result is a detailed study of ageing in a minor key that builds to an melacholic climax, which leaves you digging around for more tissues than thought you would need and emotionally winded.

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Lying at the heart of the film is Emilio (voiced by Alvaro Guevara), a retired bank manager who thanks to the onset of Alzheimer's is just about to be 'retired' from the world by his children. He doesn't know that's what's wrong with him - or at least, he isn't yet willing to admit it to himself. Sent to an old folks home, the set up, with its electric gates, basic food and strange roommates, is more akin to a prison than anything else and the suggestion of a sort of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest style drug regimen - albeit delivered by much nicer staff - is surely no accident.

Emilio finds himself sharing with Miguel (Tacho Gonzalez), an ageing wide boy, who sees memory loss as an entrepreunerial opportunity, frequently sending the residents on wild goose chases in return for cash that they, rather helpfully, soon forget they have handed over. He even finds time to fleece a woman who sits by her window all day, riding the Orient Express that chuffs through her mind by joining her in her fantasy. After all, what would she do with the cash her relatives send otherwise?

Despite this, Miguel is friendly and knows all the tricks of the hospital system, even if his "Rockerfeller" nickname for Emilio grates on him almost as much as his roommate's skewed sense of morality. At mealtimes the pair sit with obsessive collector Antonia and the perfectly able-minded and bodied Dolores, in the home purely to care husband Modesto, whom late-stage Alzheimer's has rendered mute and immobile, save for the occasional smile at a memory stirred up for him by his wife.

It is in their company that we watch Emilio's gradual decline, knowing that the hospital's upper floor - from which, just as in Away From Her, patients never return - is likely to beckon at some point. This is not a film chiefly concerned with the ebbing of existence, however, but with exploring the nature of memory and friendship, loyalty and acceptance.

Ferreras' animation has a wistful simplicity, coupled with a refreshing lack of sentimentality that is reminiscent of the best of Hayao Miyazaki and Raymond Briggs - although some of the scoring from Nani Garcia strays a bit close to tear-jerk territory.

This is at times a heartbreaking watch, but the tears are leavened by a rich vein of humour and humanity that runs throughout and a satirical suggestion that the fantasy 'retreats' enjoyed by some of the patients may well offer more solace than the institutionalised reality of the home. A thought-provoking consideration of ageing from the perspective of the elderly that is, perhaps ironically, hard to forget.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2012
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An Alzheimer's sufferer finds a new place in the world after entering an old folk's home.
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Director: Ignacio Ferreras

Writer: Ángel de la Cruz, Ignacio Ferreras

Starring: Tacho González, Álvaro Guevara, Mabel Rivera

Year: 2011

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Spain

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If you like this, try:

Away From Her