There have been many documentaries on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, but it is no exaggeration to say that there has never been one that creates the level of heartbreak as Scott Kirschenbaum’s focus on Lee Gorewitz, a patient at an Alzheimer’s and Dementia care unit in California.

The film follows Gorewitz as she ambles through the unit, where life unfolds in a slow-motion series of mundane activities and interactions. Gorewitz speaks in a series of seemingly disconnected sentences that bare no relation to the questions she is asked, and the only clue that she seems aware of her situation is a very brief struggle to recall her birthplace.

At some moments, however, she appears lucid and often funny – doing an impromptu dance when Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” is played and offering mock-horror that Kirschenbaum’s camera crew will follow her in to the bathroom. Around her, the facility is populated with patients who have either retreated deep into silence or have lost their physical mobility – Gorewitz observes one sleeping woman slumped in a wheelchair and deadpans to the camera, “That one looks like it’s dead.”

The tragedy of Gorewitz’s condition is that she is clearly a vibrant and loving personality – she interacts with the facility’s staff with sincerity and a care for their work, while her bored gaze during mild therapy sessions gives the impression of a woman that wants to get more out of her existence.

Many sensitive viewers will find themselves becoming teary-eyed at this riveting view of a woman whose mind and body have separated. But anyone who needs to know what Alzheimer’s can inflict must view this powerful and moving nonfiction film.

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