Deborah Hoffmann is many things, among them an accomplished filmmaker and a devoted daughter. She is not, however, a proselytizer.
But when speaking of Alzheimer’s disease, she mounts her soapbox.
“So often people say that Alzheimer’s robs its victims of their humanity,” Hoffmann points out. “That enrages me.
“Just last week I went to visit my mother in her nursing home, and when I got there she was sitting next to another woman, holding her hand and tenderly stroking her face.
“How could anybody look at that and say, ‘There is somebody robbed of her humanity?”’
Likewise, how could anybody watch “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,” Hoffmann’s supremely human account of her own mother’s affliction, and not come away with a fresh perspective, both on the disease, as well as on the tenacity of love in the face of fleeting identity.
Hoffmann’s film reminds us that, if we care enough, we can learn to see the world through another’s eyes and respect the view, no matter how distorted.
And it does so not only with compassion but, surprisingly, with humor.
Airing tonight, the Academy Award-nominated “Complaints” kicks off the eighth season of “P.O.V.,” which again brings a varied menu of independent films to summer television Tuesdays on PBS through July 29.
On a recent visit to Manhattan, Debbie Hoffmann describes her mother Doris, now 87, as “good.” Also, “much more confused.” Also, “in wonderful spirits.” Also, “very verbal. She enjoys talking, even though I often don’t know what the topic is that’s being talked about.”
“She has a definite quality of life,” Hoffmann says, “and, however weird it may seem to me, she has life still in her.”
But in the film, the daughter concedes that for the longest time she failed to accept mounting evidence her mother as she knew her was slipping away.
But while continuing her career as a film editor, she eventually tackled an increasingly demanding second job as her mother’s overseer. The experiences and images that resulted would form “Complaints,” her first film as a director.
The film is told in candid recollections, often delivered on-camera by Hoffmann, a woman with soulful eyes and a suitably dry sense of humor.
She chronicles Doris’ “Dentist Period,” during which the addled woman engaged in obsessive note-taking as reminders to go to the dentist - then, even after the broken tooth was fixed, kept turning up at the dentist’s office, where Hoffmann would be summoned to come fetch her.
I spent years trying to bring her back to what I called reality, what I thought was the world she should be in,” Hoffmann says.
“Then, finally I got it: that she was inhabiting a world that was satisfying to her, as long as I didn’t keep bugging her, and that maybe I could join that world in some way.”
She could, and did.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PROGRAM TIMES “P.O.V.: Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter” airs tonight on PBS at 10 on KSPS-Channel 7 from Spokane and at 9 on Coeur d’Alene’s KCDT-Channel 26 and Moscow’s KUID-Channel 12.
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