Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The Patron Saints: A doc that paints the tragedy of growing old

A scene from “The Patron Saints”

3 out of 4 stars

Title
The Patron Saints
Directed by
Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Genre
Documentary

Over a period of five years, filmmakers Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky followed the residents in an unnamed American nursing home to create a unflinching look at the inevitable tragedy that is senescence. In The Patron Saints, they provide no facts or figures, no last names and no diagnoses. Instead, one of the younger inmates, a disabled man named Jim with a wry sense of humour, plays narrator, introducing us to his fellow patients as the camera lingers on a confused face or a leathery limb, a beige corridor or a kindly nurse.

Mainly, this observational realism serves the filmmakers exceedingly well, creating a humane, almost elegiac atmosphere, with occasional flashes of black humour, all of it heightened by a soundtrack of choral music that culminates in Arvo Part's ethereal version of My Heart's in the Highlands.

We do not need to know what specific form of dementia plagues Florence to understand the nature of her repeated queries "What am I doing here? How long have I been here?" and to feel anguish when she quietly but quite lucidly announces that if she can't get out of here, she will take a stocking and strangle herself. (All one might wonder is how such a person can possibly give informed consent to being filmed.)

Story continues below advertisement

Occasionally, however, Cassidy and Shatzky overreach: Images of the nearby garbage dump establish a heavy-handed metaphor out of keeping with the rest of the film, while the lack of any additional information about the patients occasionally denies viewers their empathy. In particular, Jim's fate at the end of the film remains frustratingly mysterious.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Kate Taylor is lead film critic at the Globe and Mail and a columnist in the arts section. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨