About the new documentary film by Marianne Pletscher
By Alex Bänninger
Is it possible to make a documentary film about dementia sufferers that is as sobering as sensitive? A film equally merciless and consoling? Marianne Pletscher shows: It certainly is.
During her years at Swiss Television Marianne Pletscher evolved from a roving reporter to a patiently peering documentary filmmaker. By now, her oeuvre amounts to more than three dozen works and has gained her much respect and many awards, thus providing a shining example of what public television can accomplish: intelligent, profound and fascinating programmes that create a lasting impression.
An oevre of dignity and fairness
Marianne Pletscher has repeatedly put her finger on difficult, even tabooed subjects such as rape, gun rampage, suicide, terminal care or Alzheimer’s. It is impressive to see how subject matters so prone to lurid and voyeuristic presentation are instead treated with calm, knowing familiarity with the problems at hand and are depicted with precision, which makes for a highly effective means of delivering issues for in-depth discussion.
Marianne Pletscher has documented a topicality that especially yellow journalism would – against all senses of dignity and fairness – pounce on greedily with no hesitation to exploit human suffering to push ratings. And yet, what this different kind of television had to offer was challenging, differentiating, resonating strongly: Ethics combined with an artistic signature turns the box into a screen that is able to capture broad audiences too.
By now, Marianne Pletscher has reached pension age and has left Swiss Television. But passion for filmmaking knows no age limitations. In cooperation with the Alzheimer’s Association of the Canton of Zurich she made the documentary «Different Hats, Same Boat». The story is quickly told: A group of dementia sufferers and their partners practices scenic drama during a week’s holiday. It relieves the couples of the burden of suffering and caretaking respectively.
What appears to be a sober filmic report is, upon a closer look, a sensitive description of life with Alzheimer’s. Marianne Pletscher illuminates that life brightly, harshly even. However, her means are not shocking images and a hammering commentary, but empathetic questions, quiet conversations and tellingly filmed details. This way, the drama of the disease is cradled by the poetry of observant curiosity.
Information without preaching
As is the case with all her documentaries, Marianne Pletscher’s position is clear: On the side of the dementia patients. She shows two men with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and they are portrayed with respect and compassion but without the embarrassment of pity. The audience gets an immediate sense of what dementia means, as immediate as it is possible in a filmic depiction.
Pletscher also assumes the perspective of an onlooker towards the spouses of the two men and the physician and project advisor Irene Bopp-Kistler as well as the theatre director Christine Vogt. They tell and explain, they don’t preach. The result is not a film about dementia in general but one about a few people directly afflicted by the disease, who have to share in with it’s gravity or help to ease the pain.
The film is a powerful interstation for reflections on how to deal better with the disease on the still long road ahead to a medication effective against Alzheimer’s.