In extreme contrast to such emotionally gripping moments, Before Leaving devotes most of its time to the hustling, bustling, carpe diem vibe that inhabits this vibrant elderly community. Rather than come across with the grim, somber feel of a funeral dirge – the common assumption made by outsiders concerning what skilled nursing facilities are like – the M.A.P.I. is more akin to a colony of scurrying, scampering bees. Center-stage is their queen, the ever-present Ms. Abbes, who is referred to by one grateful home-dweller as “Mrs. Master of the Poor.”
Another staff member providing a light, life-affirming mood is Tom, who dutifully takes M.A.P.I.’s residents out on shopping trips while he isn’t serenading guests of honor at lavish, upbeat birthday parties in the facility’s lively dining room. “Are you the Coco of my heart?” he asks a celebrated centurion. “Let’s leave here on a horse. Let’s go crazy!” With a flirty, dismissive chuckle, Coco shoos off the would-be suitor, turns to another resident, and giggles, “I don’t believe a word of it. It passes the time, I guess.”
During such high-spirited moments, there’s a sense of positive regard and tactile affection that appears innocent and fresh. A silver-haired gent named Mr. Simon emerges to kiss his beloved Suzanne. A C.N.A. is seen caressing a woman’s hair, or greeting an emerging partygoer with an affectionate peck on the cheek. Maybe it’s a French characteristic, representative of that country’s less inhibited vibe. In this age of “hands-off”, politically correct coldness in U.S. health care policy, such signs of genuine mutual love make one lament how much we’ve lost in an effort to escape the liability of having such natural contact misconstrued.
Another feel-good highlight of Before Leaving occurs in the film’s opening scenes, as residents behold a lunar eclipse with special glasses. The scene brings to mind an audience of rabid midnight movie fans fitted with 3-D glasses to watch some hokey “B” movie, and was the catalyst for the film’s ever being made. “Marie came up with the idea after I pushed her to go somewhere to enjoy the total eclipse of the sun in August, 1999,” he explains. “Why not to the M.A.P.I., where Ms. Abbes was a common friend. Marie went, shot a little bit, and decided that there maybe was a film to be made.”
Paul estimates that the final production cost around $60,000 dollars, provided by several grants and company sponsorships. However, Before Leaving has yet to find broadcasters either in France, or abroad, despite the editor’s success in translating and subtitling it into English to reach a wider audience. It has found success during festival screenings, winning the Jury Awards at North Carolina’s Doubletake Documentary Film Festival and the Newport Film Festival. The movie’s optimistic take on a seldom-explored subject leaves viewers at such events moved and revitalized.
“In festivals, where people come to see something different, we get great reactions,” confirms Paul. “The film touches people because many of them have dealt with the issue. They would come up to Marie and I and thank us for the film. In many cases, it helped them. What better compliment, for a filmmaker?”
Before Leaving’s impassioned editor sums up the movie’s unique appeal by citing its cliché-bashing imagery. “It think it is, paradoxically, almost a feel-good movie, in a sense. We are reminded that life can be fun, no matter the age or state of mind.”
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Posted on July 23, 2002 in Features by

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