Wrinkles (Arrugas)

Spain (2011) Dir. Ignacio Ferreras

With his son and daughter unable to cope as Alzheimer’s begins to set in, Emilio is put into a care home to see out the reminder of his days. There he is roomed with the canny Miguel, who shows Emilio the ropes including a stern warning to stay away from the top floor, which is where the truly infirm reside. Emilio gradually settles in to the way of life at the home, making new friends, but as his mental health declines he becomes more agitated.

This animated film based on the award winning graphic by Paco Roca from 2008 has taken a few years to reach British soil but the wait was worth it. While the visual content is light and often wistful enough to appeal to kids, the themes, the tragedies and occasional dialogue might exclude the younger ones since it deals with a pretty emotive topic. But don’t fooled into thinking that being an animated feature means Wrinkles takes its subject lightly – it is just as serious and packs and equally emotional punch as alive action film might, albeit with some cheeky humour which never shows a lack of respect or sensitivity.

Like many Alzheimer’s sufferers Emilio is reluctant to admit he is ailing, being a former bank manager and a healthy swimmer, so he doesn’t take to kindly to be taken out of his family’s life and dumped onto someone else to be their problem. The affects of his condition and his decline is gradual but he is naturally oblivious to this, considering everyone else in the home worse off than himself. It is when Miguel explains the nature of the top floor that Emilio’s refusal to acknowledge his problem and indeed his future is further fuelled in his mind.

Miguel on the other hand seems to take his interment in his stride, accepting every development with a smile and a cheeky quip or two. A quick thinker and devious with it, Miguel doesn’t appear to be blighted by any noticeable condition other than old age. He is the home’s “fix it” man who can get whatever the other residents want, no questions no pack drill. He is though not beyond conning his fellow patients out of their money, relying on their failing memories to swell his own coffers – Emilio included!

However behind this Del Boy-esque persona is a man who seems acutely resigned to his own fate, keeping wads of his ill-appropriated money and stash of pills he should have taken, in a box for when he believes the time is right. With so many of his friends either being moved upstairs – figuratively and literally – it seems Miguel is merely biding his time. Eventually the small cadre at his dinner table, which includes a later partner in crime Antonia, grows ever smaller telling the sad tale of how fleeting ones time can actually be and how a turn for the worse can come when you least expect it.

This melancholic tone is naturally a recurring one but not once does is ever allow the film to descend into full blown melodrama or sentimentality,  instead subtly shifting the mood back to a humorous one when necessary. By relegating the serious aspects of their conditions to the minutiae – such as the married couple where the wife has to feed her practically immobile husband, occasionally making him smile by whispering something in his ear; or Dolores who thinks he is being followed by aliens; or the old lady who sits by the window convinced she is still a sophisticated beauty in her twenties on the Orient Express heading to Istanbul – we can sympathise yet enjoy the fanciful side of their fragile psyches without fear of feeling callous.

In a smart move as not to overwhelm the audience with style over substance, Ignacio Ferreras has relied on good old fashioned 2D animation for this film, with artwork and character designs in the vein of Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, one which Ferreras worked. This simple style allows for an easy going experience that is also able to dazzle in some of the more whimsical moments, such as the Orient Express fantasies, or Emilio’s flashbacks to his younger days. The overall tone is one of warmth when needed and tenderness and pathos for the more solemn scenes.

As much as the story is designed to buck the trend of having cute cartoon animals or kids or aliens as its protagonists, there is a cynical undertone about the treatment of the elderly in modern society. This isn’t aimed necessarily at the staff of the home who treat the residents well enough, albeit with an occasional sense of uniform rigidity with little regard for individual cases, but to the families who are all too eager to “get rid” of their ailing parents. While we know it is often for the best, the person for whom this is where they spend their final days might not see it that why. To that end we find ourselves sympathising with the elderly as they rebel against both the constraints of the home’s rules and their impending decline of health, doing so with a youthful exuberance and gleeful hubristic anarchy in search for what they believe is their lost dignity.

But the nostalgia that drives our aged cast is recalled with warmth and the friendships, no matter how eventually short they may be, come across as genuine. It is this balance of poignancy and heart warming joie de vivre that makes Wrinkles a treat of a film that shows animation is a valid medium for drama and adult themes. A thought provoking and sweetly entertaining outing that deserves a wider audience.