WRINKLES opens in a brightly lit office. Passing cars and ringing telephones establish the busy yet relaxed atmosphere. A young couple are applying for a mortgage. The bank manager politely declines, and the young man has an outburst. But in reality there is no mortgage; the young man simply wants his father to eat his soup. In a single transition the pleasant office hum is replaced by distant police sirens, and we are suddenly in a dim, depressing single bedroom. The bank manager is Emilio, and he is no longer sitting proudly behind a desk; he is hunched over in bed, an elderly man displaying the early signs of Alzheimer’s.
This opening scene is a startling misdirection, showing us the effect of Alzheimer’s from the point of view of the sufferer. We instantly understand Emilio’s predicament. What follows is a beautiful, sensitive exploration of ageing and fragility.
Emilio is soon placed in a care home, where most of the film is set. The drabness and boredom of the place are expressed through the plain but effective colour palette; the huge metal gate in front of the facility suggests that nobody is ever expected to leave. Emilio’s son bids him farewell with the phrase, “We’ll visit you real soon,” but the words are delivered and received with sadness – all of the characters know, and we know too, that they are untrue.
As Emilio is shown to his room, the film jumps back in time to his first day at school. The two scenes take place many decades apart, but the emotions are the same: he is nervous, lonely and yearning for familiar tenderness (“I want to go back with mommy”). It is one of many flashbacks in the film, each one as tender, revealing and heart-rending as the next. They are also reminders that Emilio has not yet succumbed completely to his condition.
Despite such moments of sadness, WRINKLES is a very funny film, as the care home’s residents – and with them, the audience – find humour in their situation. The first words uttered to Emilio by his new friend Miguel are, “Greetings, fellow inmate, what have they got you in for?” and from that point on, the resemblance between their lives and a prison drama becomes a source of comedy as well as poignancy.
The animation technique adopted is simple but effective, and consistent with the graphic novel on which the film is based. The expressions and environments are just as nuanced and detailed as they would be in a live-action film, often using stylised lighting and visual transitions to heighten the mood.
WRINKLES is a touching film, and much of its power lies in its insistence that elderly people all have lived long, emotionally complex and fulfilling lives. To end those lives in an unsympathetic environment – with no loved ones to share their memories with before those memories fade into mist – is tragic. For these reasons WRINKLES is essential viewing.