Hot Docs International Film Festival 2021 Review: It Is Not Over Yet

Year: 2020
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Louise Detlefsen

By Joan Amenn

The COVID pandemic has brought the issue of eldercare, particularly in nursing homes, into raised public awareness. The treatment of the elderly and their quality of life has become cause for renewed discussion, not just in the US but on a worldwide basis. Against this backdrop, “It Is Not Over Yet” (2020) is a particularly timely documentary as it explores one woman’s crusade to reform eldercare in her native Denmark.

Nurse May Bjerre Eiby has had personal experience with a family member being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and being confined to a nursing home. Their sad treatment led her to aspire to do better by founding her own nursing home based on non-medical treatments for the progressive and incurable disease.

While the standard practice, apparently internationally, is to prescribe sedatives, anti-depressants and antipsychotics to Alzheimer patients, Nurse May is having none of that. She calls her practice “Compassion Treatment” and relies on a simpler, more empathic approach. Appreciating nature, interacting with the staff dog and cat, and frequent indulgences of cake and other treats all make up her schedule of simple pleasures for her patients. The quality of life is Nurse May’s focus rather than extending life simply because medical science has the power to do so, regardless of how it limits the patient’s ability to function, if they can function at all. This is a powerful and inherently humanistic approach to aging and dementia which some find controversial, perhaps because a minimum of medical intervention is prescribed. Instead, birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated as well as just gathering for tiramisu around a campfire.

“It Is Not Over Yet” (2020) is a particularly timely documentary as it explores one woman’s crusade to reform eldercare in her native Denmark.”

It is a little hard to watch the last moments of some of the patients in Nurse May’s care. They are seen being wheeled out in white coffins as the other residents sing their favorite song and raise a toast to them. And then another resident quickly arrives to move in and the cycle of life and death inevitably begins again. The losses must take a toll on the caregivers but they all seem to never run out of kindness and compassion for those they tend to. They become family to those who sometimes cannot remember where they are or if their spouses are also at the residence with them. It can be difficult to watch the slow mental deterioration of these individuals who left their children, work and homes behind as they slowly devolve into a kind of mental twilight. Often, the pictures hanging in their rooms are the mute testaments to the lives they led that they no longer recognize.

Director Louise Detlefsen presents the story of Nurse May’s work simply with no strong narrative structure other than the daily routine of the care facility itself, which the viewer becomes part of. It is simultaneously a serene and quietly horrifying experience as one can’t help wondering what would happen to themselves if they ever did develop this relentless and terrible disease. The world needs more people like Nurse May who puts compassion first as they work to give each individual the dignity of as much happiness in their remaining days as possible.

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