Caring for a relative in their final years is a deeply challenging experience. Its physical demands are compounded by a strange emotional intensity that’s oddly dislocating. Love pours out, emotions are heightened and anxiety is a constant companion. Somehow ‘América’, a moving slice of documentary realness named after the 93-year-old Mexican grandma at its heart, captures all those peaks and troughs in its 70-odd minutes.
Filmed over three years by directing duo Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside it’s a poetic but unromanticised portrait of the elderly América as she’s cared for by her adult grandsons, Rodriguez, Bruno and Diego, after her son is imprisoned for supposedly neglecting her. We see them trying their best to look after her, aiding her in the shower, encouraging her to walk, even helping her go to the toilet. Diego’s zippy optimism contrasts with the silent pain on Rodriguez’s face, highlighting the psychological impact this work has on the caregivers.
Making their job even tougher is a bureaucracy that only cares whether América is being neglected, while offering no tangible support. This aspect of the film could have made for an angry polemic, but the co-directors instead zoom in on the emotional wellbeing of the family. A particularly heart-rending moment towards the end shows an argument between Diego and Bruno, as the pair succumbs to the pressure on their shoulders.
This is a beautifully clear-eyed film. Witnessing the affection between grandmother and grandchildren is the stuff this medium is made for. The sincere love we glimpse between family members, though strained by their circumstances, echoes far beyond the confines of the screen. It’s deeply personal and, at the same time, totally relatable.