Bradford 2012 Review: WRINKLES

Contributor; Derby, England
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Bradford 2012 Review: WRINKLES
Ignacio Ferreras's Wrinkles means well. It does. But for a film about the joys and sorrows of advanced old age, if Wrinkles were a person it'd be less the elderly hero and more his young relatives patiently talking through him in increasingly empty, dumbed-down platitudes. Adapted from an award-winning graphic novel, Wrinkles ticks all the boxes, from memory loss to physical infirmity to terror of the unknown, and it tries mightily to soften the blow with an irreverent sense of humour.

But all the character in the animation and the writing is for nothing when, bar a few moments, each new plot point feels less like an emotional high and more like the next stop on a production line. Ferreras wants to tell us not to go gently into that good night, sure, but beneath all the warm and fuzzy emoting his film feels far too coldly mercenary for that sentiment to ever properly hit home.

Wrinkles is primarily told from the viewpoint of Emilio (voiced by Álvaro Guevara), a retired bank manager who's just beginning to show the early signs of Alzheimer's. When his kids decide they can't cope with taking care of him, they pack Emilio off to a home with the usual promises they'll be round to visit all the time, honest.

A distraught Emilio is introduced to his roommate Miguel (Tacho González), who turns out to be the resident jester - a cheerful cynic who knows the home inside and out, able to smuggle almost anything in from the outside and ready with a smart-assed quip about everyone and anyone's ailments. In time, though, as is the way with most buddy setups, it becomes apparent Miguel stands to learn as much from Emilio as vice versa.

It all starts promisingly enough - Ferreras and Paco Roca, who wrote the original comic, clearly feel very deeply for what the elderly suffer when we decide we've had enough of them and want them stuffed away out of sight. The script is solid enough, and Guevara and  González conjure up a fairly believable easy byplay. Both Emilio and Miguel have things they're not saying but each goes along with this marriage of convenience, so to speak, out of equal parts emotional dependency and morbid curiosity.

The early scenes promise as much subtlety as yanking on the heartstrings. The introduction efficiently sketches the extent of Emilio's dementia, the quiet horror of it and the effect it's having on those around him, and the way those residents who can still communicate take their time about opening up suggests the film is headed interesting places.

But then Ferreras starts to bring in the big guns, just in case anyone's not yet grabbing for the tissues, and he employs precious little subtlety in the process. Roll call at the home is the first clue as to how much of a product Wrinkles is, for all its good intentions. The little old lady forever searching for a phone to call home, the hoarder, the widow lost in the past - while they're all rooted in real pain and real concerns they're plainly also there to check off another box on the list.

The sight of another resident who's largely in a vegetative state, looked after by his long-suffering childhood sweetheart, is the pinnacle of this kind of weapons-grade sap. The sequence where the sweetheart explains what brought the two of them together is genuinely heartbreaking, one of the few high points in the film, but you're always, always fully aware this guy is in there so Emilio can see what he's got coming.

And it gets more and more painfully, grindingly obvious Wrinkles is doggedly following the playbook, from the reduction of the supporting cast to stock types to the yawningly predictable reminder that oh, look, old men still like large breasts - or at least comically perverted old men do - and into the terrified whispers about The First Floor, where they send all the residents who've finally lost their faculties for good.

Don't let me end up there, people plead, watching the light from the elevator at the end of the hall like something out of The Shining - as if it wasn't enough to have a sneak preview of the indignities coming up, we have to have a hushed Greek chorus reminding us this is a terrible, terrible thing every five minutes as if we'd forget otherwise.

And it doesn't stop there. Not to spoil things (since, you know, people are going to disagree) but there's something deeply annoying about how cut and dried the morality behind Wrinkles is. Suffice it to say any character with harsh words for anyone else has contritely taken them back, everyone accepts old age is wonderful for all the pain it brings and all but openly apologises for ever having complained.

Lee Chang-Dong this ain't - there are moments of loss, yes, but they're resolutely sidelined to make sure we appreciate how friendship is magic and anyone who suggests otherwise is a party pooper. Not to mention the younger generation have even less depth, with never a mention of what it costs them to care for the elderly beyond those few minutes the introduction devotes to the idea.

Wrinkles means well. It does. But good intentions can't make up for this many workmanlike, jaded narrative shortcuts and childish, reductive emotional manipulation. The idea old age could be rainbows and kittens if you'd only try just ends up faintly insulting - and given the film specifically goes about refuting more or less every single piece of gallows humour anyone brings up, it's hard to see what other conclusion you're supposed to draw.

Lee Chang-Dong's Poetry and its breathtaking, astonishing ending encompasses more about growing old in the space of a single scene than all ninety minutes of Wrinkles - Lee's film covers loss, pain and sorrow, but laughter and transcendent joy as well. Wrinkles is a Hallmark card next to a statement like that - the sentiment is there, but it's a silly, ephemeral facsimile of the real experience it purports to deal with and pretty much impossible to recommend.

(Wrinkles was screened at the 18th Bradford International Film Festival, held in the UK National Media Museum in Bradford from 19th-29th April 2012.)
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JorgeMay 8, 2012 5:51 PM

"Poetry" is a masterpiece, and it wouldn't be fair doing comparations with any movie about alzheimer. "Poetry" covers much more ground than a small movie like "Wrinkles"!
I haven't seen the movie, but the graphic novel was very good (reading your review makes me think the translation is not entirely successful, because the book uses its own languague in creative ways). I liked your review, and it's great that small and rare spanish films are visited here.

Matthew LeeMay 8, 2012 6:05 PM

Wrinkles seemed like it was trying to cover a fair bit of ground to me... it's dedicated to 'All the old people of today and the old people of tomorrow' or something like that, after all.

It's a hard one for me to call, because I did like it at first - I wasn't blown away but I felt much kinder towards it than I've been here. But then the festival followed it with two more films that were about old age - broadly about old age, anyway (Malaventura and Volcano) both of which seemed so much more honest. Seriously, having everyone in Wrinkles telling a character he's wrong to act the way he does when the story doesn't come across like that at all got me really mad, and that was just one thing I started feeling bad about.

Maybe if the graphic novel's longer or the translation's different I might like it more than the movie. But other than the flashback sequence nothing here had me choking up, not even close, and I don't think the things they're talking about are any excuse for that. Hope you get more out of it than I did, either way.

Matthew LeeMay 8, 2012 6:08 PM

Just to add - I'm afraid I know pretty much no Spanish at all, so if there was any clever stuff to do with the language and vocabulary they were using unfortunately I couldn't appreciate it. Sorry about that.