A man stricken with Parkinson’s disease tries to shift from a chair to his wheelchair; even with his wife and stay-in caretaker assisting, he falls, his eyes filled with terror. A man with emphysema, who can only use one his lungs, wheezes, in a high-pitched croak, that he desperately needs one of his many anxiety meds. A ninety-two year-old woman with dementia—whose Costa Rican caretaker found her after a serious fall—has a casual, even lighthearted conversation as her gaping leg wounds are filled with antiseptic.
These are just some of the many harrowing and moving moments contained in Deirdre Fishel’s superb “Care.” Though it clocks in at a mere sixty-five minutes, its every frame bursts with pathos and humanity. It is a must-see at this year’s DOC NYC festival, where it plays tomorrow at 2:15 PM at the SVA Theater.
Fishel has certainly studied up on Frederick Wiseman, as most of “Care” proceeds without narration, save for a few talking head interviews with caretakers and relatives. The scenes play out in long, often static takes, watching the everyday hardships and limitations of fragile, frightened, but extraordinarily perseverant, individuals.
Those adjectives are not limited to the four elderly or seriously afflicted people that have chosen round-the-clock home care and, their family members attest, probably would have given in to their illnesses had they lived in lonely resignation at a hospital. Fishel devotes just as much screen time to the grievances of the employees, who earn a pathetic median annual income of $13,000. One of them lives in a shelter due to her home being destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, another has to borrow huge sums of money from an already struggling parent. The most heartwarming story is that of the Costa Rican caretaker who spends her scarce free time trying to obtain a working visa.
“Care” will have everyone rallying for a vast boost in caretaker wages, as well as more financial assistance to those who require home care services. “If we live long enough, we will all be disabled,” the wife of the Parkinson’s patient, who has been nearly bankrupted by the costs of home care, says near the end of the film. That portentous truth, and other wrenching moments in the film, make it a documentary that is impossible to watch at a remove.