Among the distinguished short-fiction movies screened at the 20th edition of the Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts was the Belgian film Alzhaimour, directed by Pierre van de Kerckhove.
Winner of 45 prizes in the past two years, the 15-minute movie gives us a smile, some hope and plenty of compassion for people suffering from Alzheimer's. The movie was released in June 2016 and since then has been screened at a long list of short-films festivals.
The title itself hints at the subject matter, being a combination of the words "Alzheimer's" and "amour" – the French word for "love".
The story is that of a lady who lives in a nursing home and expresses her sadness that her son never visits her. However, the son does visit, telling her that he will take her home soon.
A new patient arrives at the nursing home, also suffering from Alzheimer's, and he soon starts flirting with the woman. Every day, the same flirtation starts again from scratch; they simply forget the events of the previous day.
The teenage-style flirtation provides the audience with a laugh, as they enjoy – and even bless – this strange love story, which has echoes of the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day.
Eventually, they fall for each other. The son then arrives to take his mother from the nursing home, only to see her sitting with her new lover -- who turns out to be the son's father.
Pierre van de Kerckhove's short version provided a touch of joy for the audience, particularly the happy ending.
The musical soundtrack, meanwhile, added to the positive vibe. The director said that he found a musician playing in the metro in Belgium and asked him to create the music for the movie.
Van de Kerckhove was a professional documentary filmmaker for more than 20 years; then a personal tragedy prompted him to make this short film. His Moroccan wife of 22 years woke up one day and decided to leave him. He had the feeling that his whole world was collapsing, and to cope with events he started writing like crazy, producing the script for the movie.
The idea for the film was based around his emotional state, he says. The intriguing question for him was whether the sudden and definitive separation of a romantic couple means that all traces of love have disappeared.
His intention was to try to explain that, even if two lovers become amnesiacs, the love that unified them at one point in time remains -- printed in their DNA, so to speak.
Rather than being overly dramatic, his film presents this idealistic vision of love in a poetic way. The vision is also expressed in film's title, mixing between the words for the disease and love itself.
For an Egyptian audience, the movie title brings to mind the famous Egyptian film Alzheimer's, featuring mega-star Adel Imam. Released in 2010, it was a surprising topic then, helping to raise awareness of the disease in Egyptian society.
The Egyptian movie was quite different, focusing instead on hatred and greed. These sentiments push a whole family to plot against their father, convincing him that he has this illness, with the aim of taking over his fortune.
The two films demonstrate two very different approaches to the same disease and its cinematic representation.
Van de Kerckhove avoids the cold facts of Alzheimer's, humanizing a disease that affects more and more families around the world, including in Egypt.
It is the most common form of dementia, resulting in severe memory loss and diminished cognitive skills. Nearly twice as many women have Alzheimer's disease as men.
As yet, there are no reliable methods for preventing, curing or slowing its progress. Medication can only help relieve some symptoms.
But for Van de Kerckhove, such hard – even distressing – facts were not relevant to his film.
“The facts can be found easily by any party interested; my movie is about love,” he says.
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