While caring for her mother Aïcha who has Alzheimer’s, film-maker Karima Saïdi often asks her the simple yet loaded question: “Where do you live?” At one point, her mother replies: “In a handkerchief”; a strangely poetic answer that encapsulates the mental haze of her condition. At other times she speaks of her childhood in Tangier, or the family home in Brussels where she saw her children grow up. As Aïcha’s mind wanders, Saïdi’s documentary transforms into a haven for her memories, which are fading fast.
This cinematic nest is built from old home videos and photographs, which tell of a turbulent immigrant life in Belgium. Saïdi’s older sister Amina was forced into marriage at the age of 15, and her brothers Jamal and Mohamed both died relatively young. Told through Saïdi’s sombre voiceover, these tragic events also incur questions for Aïcha, who is urged for confirmation as well as further details.
While open in their intention, these conversations take on a slightly uncomfortable tone, as Aïcha becomes increasingly frustrated with her inability to recall her own past. While Saïdi had earlier received permission from her mother to film her, Aïcha’s deteriorating awareness raises the issue of whether she can meaningfully consent to having her most vulnerable moments shown on screen.
With this in mind, some of Saïdi’s stylistic choices also feel quite uneasy. When juxtaposed with polished closeups of Saïdi speaking her parts of the recorded conversations, we only see Aïcha in time-stop frames; it is jarring to never see her actually speaking the words that float through the film. Though undeniably moving in parts, A Way Home also begs important questions about the ethics of representing those with cognitive illnesses on film.