América

 

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A remarkably engrossing portrait of three grandsons and a grandmother who is in need of care.

 
América

  

The title of this much-lauded documentary refers to a Mexican woman aged 93 named América Capdevielle Levas. The film is a first feature by Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside. Together they take joint credit as directors, producers and editors and, while Stoll is the chief photographer, Whiteside is listed as his assistant. Although the needs of América are pivotal - she is not only rendered relatively immobile by age but is suffering from dementia - this film bearing her name puts the spotlight equally on América and on her three grandsons. With América still choosing to live at home and her son Luis in police custody, it is the grandsons who become her carers: there's Diego, first seen living in Puerto Vallarta who comes back to Colima to help out, the slightly older Rodrigo with his partner Cristina and, joining them a little later in their endeavours, the youngest of the three, Bruno.

 

América could easily have come across as a desperately sincere work that viewers would prefer to avoid due to the depressing nature of its subject matter, but in the event it transcends that potential limitation. There is a remarkable and engaging sense of intimacy in this film and, while the patience of all three carers arouses our admiration, it is the depth of feeling conveyed early on by Diego as he attends to his grandmother that captivates us. It does so all the more because, even though América occasionally seems unaware of the identity of her carers, she shows much appreciation of their efforts in a way that suggests a sweet nature.

 

Every viewer, whether or not somebody who is or has been a carer, will find something exemplary and inspirational here, yet the downside is certainly not ignored. Thus, América's state is shown to make her difficult over such matters as using the toilet and being showered and her own fears can lead to irrational behaviour. Likewise, the 'dream team' of siblings eventually cracks up under these pressures: this is painful to the viewer but makes it easier to identify with them as fallible human beings.

 

The film itself is not perfect. There is an unnecessarily long pre-credit sequence which, without comment or clarification, shows scenes of Diego's daily life in Puerto Vallarta (his informative comments explaining his   connection to the housebound América who has been glimpsed tellingly at the start are delayed until after the title has appeared). It is also the case that the word 'Epilogue' ought to be added to a title which, appearing unexpectedly just before the close, leads us to expect another lengthy segment which in the event proves to be aptly brief. Furthermore the character of América's son Luis fails to come fully into focus although there is extra drama in the fact that he has been accused by the authorities of neglecting América, a charge that her grandsons believe to be unfounded and set out to challenge. Yet these points are all relatively unimportant. América is hugely involving and well-judged in its length: indeed, it can safely be said that it is highly unlikely that we shall ever see another film dealing so well with the subject of a family lovingly but imperfectly facing up to a duty of care.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  América Capdevielle Levas, Diego Alvarez Serrano, Rodrigo Alvarez Serrano, Bruno Alvarez Serrano, Cristina Hernández.

 

Dir Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside, Pro Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside, Ph Erick Stoll with Chase Whiteside, Ed Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside.

 

Made with support from the Film/Video Studio at the Wexner Center for the Arts-Dogwoof.
75 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 8 February 2019. Cert. 12A.