Hot Docs 2021: It Is Not Over Yet Argues for Compassion as Medicine
Louise Detlefsen’s latest film shines a spotlight on one nursing home’s radical approach to taking care of patients with dementia.
In the opening shots of It Is Not Over Yet, scenes of nature bathed in light, surround the exterior of a nursing home for those with severe dementia. Tucked away in North Zealand, Denmark, Dagmarsminde houses roughly a dozen patients, each with varying degrees of impairment to their cognitive abilities. Then those shots of nature lead into a moment of silence for a resident who has just passed away in the nursing home. Through a mostly fly-on-the-wall approach, director Louise Detlefsen crafts an intimate look at compassion as a form of medicine and the importance of providing attention and care as opposed to simply prescribing drugs. By looking at one specific nursing home in Denmark, It Is Not Over Yet showcases an alternative to and an indictment of the drab, impersonal nursing homes that so many turn their loved ones towards.
Despite being a condemnation of other nursing homes, there’s rarely a moment mentioned of those places. Founded by May Bjerre Eiby, Dagmarsminde feels more like a pilot project meant to set an example – though that example is born out of May’s own loss of her father at a nursing home due to neglect. It is immediately apparent in It Is Not Over Yet that neglect is not a concern for those staying at Dagmarsminde. They get to eat cake, drink, and spend their days watching TV, reading, and generally just doing what makes them happy. As a result, the nursing home feels more like a big family, with caretakers shifting the structure of the house to appease everyone.
It Is Not Over Yet lets this process roll out naturally as two new residents, Vibeke and Torkild, come into the nursing home: both with dementia, but while Torkild seems conscious of what’s happening to Vibeke, he is unaware of the severity of his own dementia. Instead, Torkild roams the house like it’s his own, gets visibly upset when any music is played, and generally seems aloof to his declining cognitive abilities. The caretakers rework the home, noticing the new dynamics in the house, and try to create a healthy environment for all residents without creating any jarring shifts in their current day-to-day routines.
When another new resident comes into Dagmarsminde after a harrowing experience at another nursing home, It Is Not Over Yet feels like it gets the closest to being critical of other places without explicitly stating what’s wrong elsewhere. Though May briefly goes over the differences and what result she hopes to achieve with Dagmarsminde, it’s bringing in someone who is now experiencing the other form of treatment that accentuates the film and May’s condemnation of how nursing homes are currently operating.
While it very briefly feels searing, It Is Not Over Yet mostly comes off as hopeful that others will re-evaluate how they take care of their patients. While drugs are certainly helpful, and the film doesn’t write off their necessity, it emphasizes the idea that there’s a dependency that professionals place on drugs to take care of their patients – something which treats humans more like an experiment than a person. Compassionate in its portrayal of its subjects, It Is Not Over Yet is an endearing and vital piece of filmmaking.
Hot Docs Film Festival runs Thursday April 29 to May 9. Visit the festival’s official website for more information.