Acting as our esteemed tour guide down M.A.P.I.’s multi-storied labyrinth of hallways, dining areas, resident bedrooms, nursing stations, field trip buses, and administrative offices, Ms. Abbes brings viewers along for a bustling day of coordinating admissions, counseling family members, and putting out the emotional fires for her dependent masses. As Before Leaving begins, a nurse informs us that two classifications of patient reside there: those with Alzheimer’s, who can recall older memories, but not current events, and psychotic patients who have been institutionalized most of their lives for schizophrenia-like conditions. Watching the film, however, one notices that each patient transcends such classifications, revealed as a singular individual with peculiar quirks, eccentricities, and mannerisms all their own.
Take, for instance, Ms. Abbes’ initial interview with Ms. Colizza, a stubborn matriarch who takes fierce pride in once managing 400 workers as a Human Resources Director. Failing memory and trembling, weakened legs have made this self-proclaimed “boss of everyone” a dangerous liability at home. As her long-suffering daughter reluctantly admits Colizza, the defiant mother proclaims, “Thank you for a dreadful day. You’re trying to get rid of me!” Scoffing at the notion of being confined to M.A.P.I., she crosses arms across her chest and spews sarcasm like “The Lion King”’s conniving villain, Scar.
After a few minutes with Ms. Abbes, whom she admires as a fellow leader, Colizza mellows out, reassuring the administrator that “I think we’ll get along just fine.” When Ms. Abbes asks why, the new resident’s response is a telling commentary on what this intensely independent woman values in life, even when mind and body are compromising such self-reliance. “We both have the same authority,” Colizza explains with a mischievous, “between-you-and-me” smile.
A few moments pass, and the incredibly busy nursing home coordinator is overseeing the orientation of another new client, Mireille. After remarking on her colorful head of hair, Ms. Abbes is scolded. “You called me a red-head,” screeches Mirielle, who recently escaped from a psychiatric ward with her boyfriend and was refused re-admittance there. “Don’t call me that.”
Ms. Abbes works her magic, introducing the perpetually grinning, toothless woman to the facility’s food services coordinator after being told by a caregiver that Mirielle’s favorite part of the day is “lunchtime.” “You’re nice,” says Mirielle, warming to the considerate administrator. “I love you with all my heart.”
“A central theme with Yamina,” explains Paul, “is to give her residents the same respect and attention you would to your own friends. Never to infantilize them. She says herself that she, as a person, learns more from her residents that anyone else. She also makes it a point of knowing them on a personal basis. After all,’ she says, ‘we practically live together. More than that, I work where they live.’”
“It’s clear to me,” he continues, “that the attention she gives them, along with the trust they develop in her, are the keys to running a successful home, where success is measured not in French Francs or Euros, but in harmony and friendship.”
Even so, Before Leaving makes it clear that M.A.P.I.’s success is a team effort, dependent on the strengths of other gifted professionals, such as the nursing team that must alert family members to a loved one’s death. Entering the room of a long-time resident and finding her stiff and lifeless in bed, they dress the body in a favored wardrobe and brush her hair. It’s clear that the deceased women’s care team, so instrumental in serving her during these senior years, know best how she would have wanted to appear at this final stage. As viewers, we consider such final post-life rituals with new understanding. Someone has concluded their arc of life, and as a C.N.A. slowly shuts the room’s window shade and the scene fades into darkness, the finality is devastating.
Get the rest of the feature in part three of SENIOR CINEMA>>>

Posted on July 23, 2002 in Features by

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