Lost Down Memory Lane March 23, 2012

Film director Erik Strömdahl shares his thoughts about Klara Van Es's film
Klara van Es’ film LOST DOWN MEMORY LANE wants to show how it is to live with Alzheimer’s, seen with the eyes of the people who suffer from it. The film is recorded in a special apartment called Iduna at the “Bijster”, a nursing home for people with dementia in Essen near Antwerp, Belgium. The film is recorded over one year after very careful research. Klara did actually work one day every week over one year at the clinic before shooting, so in the end she was very well known and trusted. That made it possible for her to create a natural and relaxed atmosphere, which is important to be able to come close to the eight residents. During that time she could also observe and get ideas for the script. But Klara wasn’t the only one. She had a team with a cameraman and a sound technician.

What struck me when I look at Klara van Es’ film is how important the general design of the film is. Already from the first picture, including the titles you get the feeling in what way the film wants to communicate with you. To start with the titling, the letters appears like weak and old flickering light tubes, symbolizing the subject of the film. Then the film continues in a slow and gentle tempo with steady mostly wide beautiful shots, letting the viewer explore the life at Idona. A few extreme close-ups catch the mood of the patients.

One risk when filming people with different mental diseases is that they become comedians. There were certainly moments when you laughed, but it was a gentle laugh or just a little smile. I never felt that Clara Es took advantage of their disease. I think they were filmed in a very respectful way but also with some warm humor.

So, how was the life at Iduna for these people with dementia and what does the film want to tell you?
I have my own experiences of nursing homes for elderly people. Both my own and my wife’s mother ended their days at such places in Stockholm, Sweden. One thing that was common there, was the lack of time for the patients. It was often quite a lot of stress and very small possibilities to come out of the building for fresh air. Of course such places aren’t the same everywhere, but sometimes I felt that the film was a bit propagandistic. Every nurse and everyone in the staff were just perfectly nice and they always had time. Every patient got all the focus and care that they wanted and they were all happy, except in the end of the film when they came to talk about moving to another more hospital-like ward. Then they discussed their only alternative: Taking pills to end their lives. Was everything really so perfect? If so, was it because of the impact of the camera?

For me the film gave a realistic feeling of the terrible feeling when your mind slowly becomes blank and empty of memories. But also how good care, music, dance and some training of memory can make you feel better and perhaps recover a little.