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Review: Lost in the Memory Palace (2010)

Directed by: Klara van Es | 87 minutes |

In the care apartment and residential group Iduna in Essen, Belgium, we follow a group of elderly people, mainly women. They are demented in a varying but incipient stage. The camera follows the daily activities of these ladies from a discreet distance: from a corner at the back of the living room at the height of a wall clock, through an open door from the hallway or from behind the sofa. The camera always continues to follow the scene calmly with a minimum of movement. It produces beautiful framed images of old hands, restless feet and uncomfortable bodies, but it sometimes feels like peeking. Also because we can hear the ladies at all times, no matter how far away the camera is.

Despite or perhaps precisely because these Alzheimer’s patients share the same fate, things are not always very friendly. At the coffee table it is possible to argue because someone is sitting in someone else’s place, no longer knows whether he had coffee or tea, or if he puts his cup down on one side. The fate of the forgetful is mainly made concrete for these people by nursing home De Bijster, which hangs above everyone’s head like a sword of Damocles. We never get to see De Bijster, but it is spoken of as if it were a special department in a communist police state. The only man who passes by in the beginning is now too far off for Induna and in the next scene during the potato peeling, one wonders where this gentleman has gone. He is after De Bijster, is the conclusion. Suddenly he seems to have disappeared. The looks of the women are angry and sad, but also fearful and questioning. Asking towards the carers, the makers and the camera and thus the viewer; they know that we know something that they no longer know.

Among the predominantly Flemish women is a lady of standing, she is still approachable and with a cigarette in hand she comments on her situation in a dignified tone. She does not have to be ashamed of Alzheimer’s: “entire tribes have ‘t … but it is not talked about”. She feels tucked away because she once went wrong with the car. She does not want to go to De Bijster, she does not like “collonnes”. She tries to bring life to the brewery with a provocative remark, commands someone else to act “normal”, or speaks some comforting words when a lady who has spent a large part of her life in shipping has to go to De Bijster.

In an almost dreamlike sequence, we see this woman leave for a place by the sea, but De Bijster herself again remains out of the picture. And that is perhaps a good thing, because ‘Lost in the Palace of Memory’ is a that gives a non-glorious picture of aging and, with the sad fate of the patients suffering from dementia, predominantly sets a heavy tone, which from time to time through a funny observation, a humorous remark from the patients themselves, or through beautiful images of the elderly in a swimming pool. Under water, the legs of the elderly are barely distinguishable from their caretakers and other bathers. As if there is no difference for a while. But no matter how forgetful and absent they become, the guests of the Iduna residential group are all relatively easy to approach and have good mobility. The next step, that of nursing home De Bijster, is spared the viewer.

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