Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside’s slim debut documentary film is one that painstakingly observes the difficulties of elder and end-of-life care, not to mention the family tensions caused by shouldering such immense responsibility. Diego and his two brothers, Rodriguez and Bruno, are faced with the task of caring for their fragile grandmother after their father is jailed for failing to look after her properly.
A documentary of unusual beauty and roundedness.
Somehow, in spite of this solemn and unflinching content, América is an affectionate, even spritely film — finding incidental humour in family squabbles and sun-dappled beauty in the heavily lined face of the old woman at the centre of its story. As the brothers’ relationships grow increasingly fraught over their myriad duties, Stoll and Whiteside film in unusually beautiful widescreen, composing their shots with the sort of care and cinematic flair rarely given to non-fiction film. It’s a project that finds its purpose in tiny moments — the gentle adjustment of pillows, lively arguments in the kitchen, or a grandmother’s mumbled goodnights to her doting grandson.
Sharing the enormous responsibilities of elder care is still shown for what it is: curing constipation, getting América out of bed and walking, and other basic tasks are seen here in their teeth-gritting difficulty. But the filmmakers also reveal the brothers’ propensity to turn the toughest of tasks into a game or a joke, perhaps borrowing from their background as circus-style street performers. The outcome of this even-keeled approach is a documentary film of unusual beauty and roundedness, capturing family life in all its paradoxical maddening love and tragedy.