20 Sept 2021
Arturo M. Antolin and Paul Romero Mendez
Kerry-Ann Calleja McGregor and Arturo M. Antolin
Ania Marson, Leslie Ash, David Sterne
Shot in one 12-minute take, Ruth follows an elderly woman (Ania Marson) and her experience of dementia. She wanders through her home, slipping in and out of pleasant memories and harsh realities, and struggles to understand what is happening, what has happened, and what will happen next, leaving her daughter Jenny (Leslie Ash) to make a difficult decision.
The decision to shoot in one continuous take works wonders here. We walk with Ruth through her house, and the camera reveals everything as she discovers it, cleverly hiding certain details until they become relevant. Additionally, the mise en scène not only reveals how long Ruth has been struggling – the Post-it Notes in the kitchen; undrunk cups of tea in the living room; letters piled up in the hallway – it also helps the audience piece together what her life was like before dementia. From the decorations (“I’m not one to repeat gossip, so listen carefully,” declares a sign in the kitchen), to the sun-drenched bedroom, there is a keen sense of nostalgia and loss. Perhaps the most disturbing image is revealed behind the bathroom door, and this throws the sweeter, more positive moments into tragic relief.
Long takes are always impressive, especially when used as cleverly as in Ruth, but as a gimmick they could be relied on to compensate for areas that may be lacking. Happily, the performances and dialogue are good, and especially Marson in the lead role offers a sensitive, moving portrait of the life of someone struggling with dementia. Her husband Kenneth is played by David Sterne as an older man, and Alex Boorman in memories, so both actors need to have chemistry with Marson, who shifts her performance depending on who shares the scene. This is a clever detail, and having him (and later Jenny) ground Marson between scenes of confusion and, at times, terror, is a great decision.
There is a real sense in Ruth of the conflict between parents and children, and how those roles may shift over time. In one memory, Ruth promises her young daughter (Catherine Banks) to find her missing blanket; and later, now that Jenny is an adult (played with wonderful control and empathy by Leslie Ash), the reason for her seeking out the comfort object is lost, and instead Ruth clings to it like a child. Ash flips between exasperation and gentle, loving touches, expertly presenting how such an affliction can affect family members who, like Jenny, must decide their parents’ fate. As they were looked after as children, now they must look after the adults. However, due to the nature of Ruth’s situation, it has become impossible for Jenny to look after her alone, thus forcing her to make a difficult decision.
Ruth is one of many films exploring dementia, and the effects it has on those afflicted and their families. However, the clever decision to film in one take sets it apart. It is a fascinating experience, at once keenly empathetic and distant, acknowledging how we can never truly understand something like this unless we, too, experience it. The single take attempts to put us in Ruth’s shoes, and it definitely succeeds.