Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Before We Forget


I've finally managed to catch this documentary by Jeremy Boo and Lee Xian Jie, having missed it while en route back to Singapore from the Hong Kong International Film Festival, where it made its world premiere at this year's edition of the South East Asian Film Festival, and other one off screenings at various locations. So you can imagine my joy that I've managed to jump at this opportunity to watch the film in a proper cinema setting. But much has changed from March until now, and perhaps I am now better equipped to sit through this, having to share similar experiences in being caregivers to a disease that has no known cure, that you'd slowly see one's love one having their cognitive abilities sapped away.

Before We Forget provides a snapshot of two women suffering from dementia, and the experiences of their family in coping with someone afflicted with a cruel neurological disease. The filmmakers followed their subject over the course of one year in making this documentary, as it joins the ranks of other medical and health related films in Singapore, which are not many - Jasmine Ng's Pink Paddlers comes to mind, as do Ang Aek Heng's This Too Shall Pass, and even Royston Tan's narrative short Ah Kong (阿公) which was also on the same subject - in an effort to raise awareness of the disease, and hopefully to remove stigma that society is quick to embrace when faced with the problems.

The filmmakers Jeremy Boo and Lee Xian Jie chose their subjects well, having two persons at different stages of the disease being subjects, that will inevitably cover the timeline from onset to the loss of ability, or to highlight and allow us to appreciate that the disease brings about massive change, whether be it in one's being, or the life that revolves around the sufferers. In the Fernandez family, I presume Celine is already into quite an advanced stage, with the loss of speech and motor skills, while with Dr Irene Giam, we see first hand how one with extreme self-awareness, can over a period of time, slowly degenerate into a state that betrays her academic excellence. In my opinion, the field of Neurology is still very much at its infancy, with the mind and brain still being the big unknown, that we have almost no response to diseases that afflicts the mind.

And through its subjects, the film tackles misconceptions, and expectations, that come with the disease, whether through the patients, or as the film also smartly crafted, a spotlight put on those who are primary caregivers, never forgetting the toil it takes when one has to look after another full time, and the absolute patience that it calls for. Having two subjects and their family also allowe for stark contrasts, such as one who has already lost all powers of speech, and one still being able to express her emotions in rather eloquent terms. We also bear witness to mobility issues, with general discussions on faith, or the lack thereof, which sometimes with the dianogsis of a disease, it may turn some into become more spiritual or religious. And let's not forget about the very compelling monologue which Dr Irene Giam put forth with regards to the quality of life, which the filmmakers shrewdly interjects the narrative with how Joyce Fernandez would be fighting instead to stay alive, and to get home.

Quality of life is something that became the focus in the later part of the film, and also becoming the thought that you'll leave the cinema with. It provokes discussion into whether one would prefer to man up and come to acceptance of what life has decided to dish unto you, and call it a day when time's up, rather than to continue battling it out along a road that leads to the inevitable anyway. Sure, one can say that one fought the good fight, but having to endure tubes being pushed into one's body, and not being able to partake in life fully, may make one reconsider, since it also piles on the strain and stress on the caregiver. It's also sad to watch Irene's startling degeneration, from someone who's relatively self aware with gutso, reduced to someone who rambles.

One of the filmmakers' aims is to remove stigma that comes with the disease, whether on the patient or the caregiver, and they've done it well, never portraying anything more than necessary lest scenes start to feel contrived, or that they are generating sympathy for the sake of. It could have, but didn't, and you'd have to salute the filmmakers' decision not to, because of the tremendous damage that comes if it is deemed exploitative, doing more harm than good and running contrary to their beliefs prior to embarking on this film, and subsequent book project. The movie does not hold concrete answers on the cure, but it sure does highlight in its own way, how we should all be a little bit more gracious and understanding, in helping those who need a helping hand. I wish everyone featured in the film well, with thanks to have opened themselves up for a film, and to hang in there when the ride gets rough.

If you would like to find out more about the disease and the film, you can always do so at http://www.beforeweforget.org. Probably the best local film to date this year, that has to find a bigger audience. The word during the Q&A is that there should be distribution for the home market sometime early next year, whether streaming, DVD, or otherwise.

Related Links
- Official Movie Webpage
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