Going into “Bicycle, Spoon, Apple,” I wondered what the title had to do with Spain, the former president of Catalan or Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s won. In discussions with Alzheimer’s patients, the person testing for cognitive dysfunction will give the subject a series of three unrelated words and ask them to be remembered. At the end of the assessment the subject will be asked to say the words given at the beginning of the interview.
As I watched a jovial Pasqual Maragall, the former president of the semi-autonomous region of Catalan, go through this test, he was given these three words; bicycle, spoon, and apple. His skill as a politician and generally gregarious persona made it seem through the conversation that he would be totally unaffected and shoot the words out without hesitation. But when asked, he stumbled and while his demeanor never cracked, he could not repeat the words.
Maragall announced that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s soon after leaving as president of Catalan. He refocused his activities to include raising awareness about the disease and establishing a research institute to find a cure; also bringing jobs and money into the region. Maragall is portrayed as one of the most popular and well-liked politicians in the region, having been the mayor of Barcelona during the 1992 Olympics.
Throughout the film information is presented about the disease, and a few scenes of other patients are shown, but the main focus is on Maragall the impact of the disease on him and his efforts to do what he can to enable a cure to be found. This is a weakness of the film as he is not dramatically affected during the course of filming. A counterpoint following an end-term patient would have put into dramatic contrast the future Maragall faces and how his efforts are valiant, given the time he has left.
The film is lovingly soft on both Maragall and his struggles but comes off as more of a public relations film about setting up the institute for the study of Alzheimer’s rather than a personal chronicle of the toll the disease takes on even the most active individual and the importance of working for a cure.
National Public Radio has a series where Tom Debaggio: author, herb and gardening expert, businessman and father, documents his decline due to Alzheimer’s to break the silence and shame that surrounds the disease. It’s heartbreaking to listen to the segments as he gets to the point where he can’t even read the books he’s written, or name the plants he’s worked with for 35 years. This is the kind of counterpoint the film needed to take it from being good to being great.
“Bicycle, Spoon, Apple” had its North American Premiere at the 37th Seattle International Film Festival.