Review: ARRUGAS [Wrinkles] (Ignacio Ferreras, 2011)

Arrugas [Wrinkles], sure to be a highlight at this month’s Spanish Film Festival, is an animated drama directed by Ignacio Ferreras and based on the comic book of the same title by Paco Roca. After premiering at the 2011 San Sebastian International Film Festival, Wrinkles picked up Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Animated Film at the Goya Awards.

The story is set in a retirement home and the events revolve around a friendship between two elderly men, Emilio (voiced by Alvaro Guevara) and Miguel (Tacho Gonzalez), who share a room following Emilio’s arrival. Emilio, a dignified and righteous former bank manager, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and as he becomes acquainted with the place and its residents and his own declining mind, his experience is impacted by Miguel, a wily old swindler who knows the ins-and-outs of the place and how to take advantage of every aging mind through his mischievous schemes. Though Miguel is content with his lifestyle, Emilio grows increasingly frustrated by his insensitivity and attitude. The strength of their friendship will impact both of their lives and those around them too.

Emilio’s worsening Alzheimer’s is not addressed heavy-handedly but is subtly referenced and evident entirely through his interactions with others. He repeats the same stories to Miguel – recounting that he used to swim once a week when he was younger – and seems oblivious to this fact, and when he tries to cut his food with a spoon instead of a knife, and angrily protests, it is apparent that he is not well.

Emilio is reminded of and reminisces of his childhood and his career as a bank manager, and in the wonderful opening sequence he mistakes his son asking him to finish his soup and take his medicine with a loan request. He seems to be too much trouble for his impatient and somewhat insensitive son and as a result is administered into a care home, where he and Miguel try desperately to maintain their quality of living. In Emilio’s case proving to the doctors that he is healthy enough to avoid being transported to the top floor of the home, the ‘lost causes’.

It struck me as I was watching Wrinkles, how taut and sharp the storytelling is. Most scenes aren’t very long, but reveal all that is intended and necessary and function as brief events in the new life of Emilio and his acclimation to the facility. There is an undercurrent of sadness, and very little hope (though an image of Miguel and Emilio swimming together in the unused swimming pool is an exception), but some well-judged humour too. I recalled Sylvain Chomet’s Oscar-nominated animated film, The Illusionist, a film Ferreras worked on as an animator, and found similarities in this depth of storytelling and immense beauty in the details.

While this is a Spanish production, I think it extends itself to an examination of elderly people all over the world, and the aged care facilities that are in place. From my knowledge, they are much the same here. If you have ever visited a relative who lives in one of these places, than almost everything about this film will strike a chord with you, seem familiar and sure to leave you feeling overwhelmingly sad.

There are a number of sad cases introduced through Emilio and Miguel: a woman who stares out the window all day and believes she is on the Orient Express, a woman who spends all her time searching for a phone to call her sons, a former DJ who doesn’t speak without mimicking, and a couple – a woman in perfect health and her husband, a serious Alzheimer’s sufferer – who often sit at Emilio and Miguel’s table.

Though there are some uplifting moments, this is not a film likely to leave you feeling good. Miguel is given some redemption at the end, but it deals with the circumstances many elderly people find themselves in so accurately – alone and confused with only their memories and companions who share the hallways and dining halls they frequent – that it is quite emotionally draining. It tells it how it is, but in a very sensitive and heartfelt way.

The hallways resemble those found in hospitals and the simple rooms even take the look of prison cells (a bed and side table and a closet). When Emilio arrives Miguel even jokingly asks him “what he is in for?” There are lots of shots of the residents sitting around in sparsely furnished rooms that look like hospital waiting rooms – an atmosphere that is cold and lifeless – seemingly waiting to die. The simple, and monotonous daily routine, the luxuries that are present purely for show and never get used, and the means that Miguel takes to keep himself amused eliminate any sense of freedom at all. Even though their freedom is short-lived and resulted in tragic consequences, they found a way to live again and it was a welcomed reprieve.

The voice-cast fits perfectly, and the emotion felt towards each of the characters feels genuinely earned. This is not accomplished by being overly sentimental, but often by being blunt and realistic, and laying it out exactly as it is and ensuring that each of the characters introduced are recognisable and relatable. This is courtesy of the rich characterizations, especially Emilio and Miguel, great nuance from Ferreras and a score from Nani Garcia that punctuates dramatic moments without being too overbearing.

Wrinkles looks amazing and some of the exterior sequences are stunningly beautiful, in particular the way that cloud and fog are used, and the incredible detail given to the lighting. Unless another outstanding animation comes along between now and the end of the year, this will likely be an Oscar frontrunner in the animated category. Dignified and highly intelligent, sensitive and tender, tremendously sad, but with enough poignancy and uplift to keep it lingering for a long time after. Wrinkles is essential viewing.