Bicycle, Spoon, Apple -- Film Review

Vivid, engaging portrait of Spanish politician Pasqual Maragall, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

SAN SEBASTIAN -- "Bicycle, Spoon, Apple" is a challenging title to remember.

It is, in fact, a test for people suspected of having Alzheimer’s disease, three unrelated words which patients are asked to memorize that differ in tests done in the U.S., India and Spain, but which all point to the same dreaded illness.

What makes this Spanish documentary different and potentially border-crossing is its extraordinary hero, Pasqual Maragall, the former mayor of Barcelona and later the president of Catalonia, who decides to make his diagnosis public. Joining him in his effort to remove the taint of shame that surrounds Alzheimer’s is his cheerful, no-nonsense wife, Diana Garrigosa. The two of them are vividly brought to life by investigative TV journalist Carles Bosch, who directed the award-winning docs Balseros and Septiembres. With good chunks of dialogue in English and an international feel, it would make an ideal fund-raising accompaniment.

Spanish audiences will be moved by this tribute to the popular pol, who was mayor of Barcelona during the Olympic games. Bosch is granted intimate moments with Maragall’s family as he follows the progress of the disease over two years. Lucid and funny for most of this time, Maragall is obviously used to giving orders and sorely tests his family’s strength and patience. Humor is found throughout the film, like his visit to New York during the presidential elections, where he celebrates Obama's victory by bringing a life-size cut-out back home. As time goes on, Garrigosa and their grown children do most of the talking, commenting frankly on the changes in his behavior and trying to prepare for "the worst, the unknown."

Though watching this energetic man gradually withdraw from the world is sad, the film does not feel downbeat. One reason is that Maragall is a fighter with a sense of self-irony. Bosch shows the protagonist’s promoting the Pasqual Maragall Foundation for Alzheimer's research, intercutting these scenes with India and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where scientists talk about new drugs that are being developed, as the disease reaches 24 million patients and epidemic proportions are projected for the future.

Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (Official selection)
Production company: Cromosoma, Catalonia TV, TVE, Xarxa TVL
Director-screenwriter: Carles Bosch
Producer: Oriol Ivern
Executive producers: Tono Folguera, Toni Marin
Director of photography: Carles Mestres
Music: Josep Sanou
Editors: Ernest Blasi, Carlos Prieto
Sales agent: Cromosoma
Unrated, 106 minutes