Growing Old Gracefully? – Arrugas (Wrinkles) Review
In the present day obsession of youth and beauty, we very rarely see films that deal with aging and the older population such as Arrugas, based on the multi-award winning graphic novel by Paco Roca. Yet with the aging population seen as an increasing burden, Arrugas candidly highlights a growing problem in modern society, and stirringly explores the isolation and fear of those facing their mortality in the confines of a care home.
Director, Ignacio Ferreras, pulls no punches and wastes little time in introducing the retired bank manager Emilio, who is to be the focus of the story. When poor Emilio is dragged back to reality from a an episode of delirium, a mixture of bewilderment, fear and anger crosses his face in a stark representation of the emotions that so heavily permeate the later parts of the film. Unbeknownst to Emilio, he is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and his son and daughter-in-law make the decision to move him into a small care home against his will. As the gates shut around the high-walled compound, the facility is given to resemble a prison, in which all the inmates are serving a life sentence.
The care home houses an eclectic range of patients, with a broad spectrum of eccentrities and illnesses, including the obsessive and talkative Antonia, the confident trickster Miguel, and the almost completely incapacitated Modesto, a harrowing sign of the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s. Of these, it is Miguel that takes the role of antagonist, and drives the film forwards. Having no apparent illness, and a sharp control of his mind, he introduces Emilio to his mischievous, often cruel, sense of humour and a warped sense of morality that inadvertently brings us to a deeper understanding of the workings of the care home, and the plight of its inmates. With apparently simplistic 2D animation, Arrugas manages to combine the subtleties of expression (reminiscent of Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies), with vivid backgrounds to create a fully immersing world, for the characters’ stories to unfold in tragically heart-wrenching fashion.
Ferreras’ production hasn’t failed to impress critics so far, with the film nominated for the Best Screenplay at the Goya awards, Best Animated Feature at the Annie and Gaudi awards, and also featuring on the longlist for the Academy Awards Best Animated Feature (alongside big budget Hollywood productions such as Rango, Rio and The Adventures of Tin Tin). Although with its mature themes and adult audience, it is sadly no surprise that it failed to reach the shortlist. Arrugas isn’t a high-paced action-packed lighthearted family film that appears the norm for western animation, and its rivals on the Academy Award longlist, and it may struggle to keep the attention of the less patient viewer, but Arrugas offers something far more unique. It plods along like Antonia and her zimmer frame, refusing to be rushed. It introduces the occasional minor character, it shares with us Miguel’s hijinks, and although sometimes feels a little lacking in direction, every single action adds to the sentimentality of the film; from the very beginning until the moment the credits roll, you’d be hard pressed to find a scene that doesn’t evoke empathy in a perhaps unnervingly familiar way. It’s that familiarity that makes the story as harrowing as it is, as we view the slow and tragic deterioration of a strong, independent man from a more personal viewpoint than we’re used to.
It appears Ferreras and Rosa’s gamble to challenge western perceptions of comic and cartoon is a resounding success, its delicate expression of heavy emotions partnered with the brutal portrayal of mortality really hits home. I eagerly anticipate the day it reaches UK screens (as yet unconfirmed), and excitedly await Perro Verde Films’ next foray into the world of animation.
Screentime: 89 minutes.