Birdwatching, a chronicle of memories

Mexican film features an Alzheimer’s patient’s attempt to document her life

“What does one do with all these memories?” ruminates Lena Dearna, the protagonist of the Mexican film Birdwatching featured in the International Competition segment of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).

Yet, it is to preserve those memories that she sets out to make a film, in her own words, a film about her impending disappearance, of her descent into oblivion.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, 68-year-old suave and urbane author and academic Lena obsesses over documenting her life visually to trace back her memories and life itself as she stares at the danger of losing control of herself. As she can only start the ‘movie’ documenting her life, but never finish it, she ropes in Andrea to do it for her.

Thus begins a deep emotional bonding between the two that threatens to take off on a wrong footing as Andrea needs much convincing to take up the eerie assignment of following a subject set to lose herself little by little before her. Banking on her charm and compassion, Lena, however, wins her over and even wrests a promise from Andrea that she will finish the movie notwithstanding the stiff resistance from her son Marcus.

The movie could be disorienting for large parts as a life is being chronicled through a camera. However, the emotional quotient is not lost at any point, thanks perhaps to the personal connect of debutant filmmaker Andrea Martínez Crowther to the story as her own mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Following the gradual collapse of an otherwise cultured and well organised Lena into misery turns a painful experience for her chronicler Andrea who has to deal with her own demons over her troubled relationship with her mother. Before she realises it, Lena becomes a motherly figure to her and Andrea makes up for the absence of her daughter Rita away in Canada.

As Lena is moved into a care home to spend her last days, Andrea appears before the camera to wrap up the movie, one that Lena will never get to watch. And she breaks down, realising how she has ended up discovering herself while chronicling Lena.

Evocative images, soothing background score and above all the stellar performance by Bea Aaronson as Lena in all her complexities makes Birdwatching a poignant watch.

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