Ruth

By Alex Rollins Berg | Drama
A woman cares for her elderly mother at home. Then a work crisis heats up.

A middle-aged woman is taking care of her elderly mother at home. She's also trying to navigate a potential work conflict remotely, answering texts while managing the everyday tasks of caring: making food, pouring drinks, and doling out medicine.

But as the work situation heats up, the daughter becomes increasingly annoyed with both her job and her mother, who suffers from dementia. The daughter loses patience, forcing her to look at the reality in front of her -- and what's really important.

Written and directed by Alex Rollins Berg, this thoughtful, sensitive short drama captures a moment in a mother-daughter relationship, where the roles have been reversed and the child is caring for the parent. It also charts the unique balancing act of a certain generation at a precipice, caught between managing the stressors of their independent lives while trying to care for the older generation that raised them.

In many ways, the film is an exercise in restraint, both in the single location of the narrative and the pared-down approach to visuals and storytelling. The camerawork and editing emphasize the cloistered, almost claustrophobic setting, with a preponderance of close-ups and a shadowy backdrop in the visuals. The spoken dialogue is spare, with repeated observations and requests by the mother that illustrate her dementia.

These repeated refrains also frustrate the daughter, distracted by the pings of work texts on her phone. These texts from work for the daughter provide the silent but omnipresent tension for both the daughter and the film, as she wrestles with being replaced on a key project by a younger, less experienced co-worker. There's little backstory, but viewers may not help but wonder as the film proceeds that the sacrifice made in time and presence to care for her mother may play into this work development for the daughter.

The minimalistic approach also allows the performances to come to the fore, and they carry much of the film's power. Actor Barbara Tirrell plays the daughter as a high-wire balancing act between competing responsibilities, trying to maintain her patience despite the shattering of her work life and the tug of irritation. Actor Lynn Cohen -- who audiences may recognize as Mags in "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" -- plays the mother lost in a haze of dementia and locked in her own reality. But she also hints at the woman outside dementia. And when her daughter needs it most, she also remains a mother, deep down, able to give her love and care when needed most.

The revelation that love and connection can prevail despite the mind's ravages is a rich and deep one, ending "Ruth" on a particularly powerful note. (It also serves as a grace note to Cohen's career; this performance as the mother is her last one before passing in 2020 at the age of 86.) The film also invites somber reflection, particularly as the population ages and the care for an ever-larger population of elderly arises as an increasingly urgent social need to address -- including the needs of the caretakers, who often suffer in their way under the weight of complex responsibilities. But above all, "Ruth" honors care as the immensely difficult, infinitely patient act of love that it often is, in all its frustration and tenderness.




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