Forget Me Not is a documentary by David Sieveking about the decline of his mother who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He introduces and describes the story in voice over, whilst appearing in shot himself all the way through. The film has three lead roles – Sieveking himself, Malte his father and of course his mother Gretel.
With a grainy aesthetic, hand-held camera and using only available lighting, Forget Me Not relies heavily on its content. The story is simple – one year David Sieveking’s mother forget to get him a Christmas present. When she also presented the family with only a bowl of soup on Christmas Eve, having forgotten it was Christmas they realised something was wrong. She had been sticking up notes to remind herself of details and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Four years later she had deteriorated further and Sieveking decided to film her experiences.
At times it feels exploitative, with the camera turned on her obvious confusion. She goes to the railway station to see her husband off on a journey and gets on the train, thinking that she is going somewhere. Occasionally, as at the station, it feels as though scenes have been undertaken just to make the film. However generally this is a caring look at a disease that leaves people looking physically intact but takes the real person that everyone has known away. At one point a Goya book is visible in the background – Alzheimer’s is as bad and worse than anything he could dream up.
Gretel is a happy looking, 73 year old woman with a penchant for horizontal striped tops. In the past she had a TV show and was something of a star in the anarchist world. Her husband Malte is 71 but looks and acts much younger. The decision about whether he is able to care for Gretel or whether she should go into a home is taken in discussion with his children, and they are all clearly brought closer by the issues that Gretel is facing.
Bookended by Sieveking’s journeys to and from his mother we learn a lot about his parents’ past. We experience much of his mother’s confusion, but there is only a certain number of times that we can see that she has mistaken her son for her husband, or announce – upstairs in her own house – that she has never seen the room she is in before. So Sieveking investgates his parents life together, and luckily they had an unusual one of political activism and open marriage.
Before the screening we were told that the director had been asked if it was OK to laugh whilst watching it. People were finding the film amusing but were frightened to laugh. He assured us that this was OK. ‘My mother has lost her memory, not her sense of humour,’ he said. He added that recently he had told her that they had only just eaten after she had announced it was dinner time. With a laugh she asked him ‘Did I like it?’
This is a warm-hearted examination of a difficult and painful subject. It shows the struggle for everyone involved and the way that difficulties can bring people together.