Documentary feature América, from Directors Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside, is the real-life story of three Mexican brothers who looks after their grandmother – América. It initially feels like an unusual tale that takes some time to settle, and to understand what the situation is, but once you’re immersed in, we’re offered an insight unlike anything I’ve witnessed before as they care for their 93-year-old Grandmother with love, compassion and honesty.
Filmed over three years, it starts slow as we follow Diego in his work place at the resort town of Puerto Vallarta. We witness his day-to-day existence of lazing on the beach, working with surf tourists and waiting around in the sun. It’s hard to get a grip on what he does, beyond this, or how he earns much money but it’s also an early reflection of his mind-set and how he approaches the years that follow, which is with patience and unerring calmness, well, mostly. Once we return to the town with his grandmother, we learn that there’s no-one to look after América, because their father has been arrested for allegedly neglecting their grandmother, after she’s found bloody and bruised after a fall. We never see these early stages, of course, just the aftermath and the brothers dealing with the situation they find themselves in.
Early on I found América difficult to watch because as an elderly lady, she isn’t always in her own mind and often confused, or unsure, of events. These elements are tough, especially because it’s so very real. But, throughout her misunderstandings, her grandsons are doing everything they can to have a ‘normal’ day with her and you begin to see small flickers of comprehension and understanding within her actions. In truth, they’re always helping her to keep moving, keep clean and eat properly so while it may feel distressing, due to her reactions, I implore you to keep watching.
We witness the brothers argue over what her reality is, and what each of them thinks about the situation they’re in. They discuss consciousness itself but endeavour to pull through past memories for her and, if you will, dig into her soul and find the América they once knew before. But they also talk about who they’re keeping her active for, is it for themselves or one brother, or for what reason? There’s a lot of pressure and reflection to be had here but it’s an oddly refreshing look at the world of a carer and how some people want to keep family in the family, no matter how old or seemingly lost from the person they once were.
Director’s Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside also keep América ‘s dignity throughout, even in her moments of troubles by going off camera and instead focusing on the brothers’ actions when she needs help. This is a empathetic choice and smartly achieved, the entire documentary retains that fly-on-the-wall feel throughout but you’re also pulled into their worlds, and you never feel you shouldn’t be there. The three brothers, Diego, Rodrigo and Bruno, are an open book, there’s nothing to be hidden here and that’s what makes it captivating to watch.
América is a remarkably unique and intimate portrait into family and generational care, it’s also a delve into the reality of a family who love intensity and try to make those alone, scared moments as normal and as human as they can be for their Grandmother. For me, if that’s not something to admire, despite all the arguing and strain it creates, then I’m not sure what is. Be kind, be good, and live the best you can is the overall message here and also wait for the beautifully touching final frames to really feel every essence of that.