Wrinkles (Arrugas): Film Review

Poignant animated feature about senior citizens is one the year's best Spanish films.

Feature-length animation from Spain's Ignacio Ferreras looks at hijinks in an old age home, adapted from Paco Roca's award-winning graphic novel.

SAN SEBASTIAN — An exceptional animated feature from Spain, Wrinkles imaginatively and sensitively explore one of the major issues confronting most of the developed world: how to look after senior citizens in a rapidly aging population. Following the ups and downs experienced by a retired bank-manager after he moves into a retirement home, this adaptation of Paco Roca's award-winning graphic novel represents a far from easy commercial sell. But Sylvain Chomet's Oscar-nominated The Illusionist, on which Wrinkles director Ignacio Ferreras worked as a character animator, shows that with suitable marketing and critical support audiences do exist for such outstanding, adult-oriented fare.

Then again, The Illusionist had several points in its favor: Chomet's previous success with The Triplets of Belleville, its Jacques Tati connections, a near-total absence of speech and a magic-tinged air of nostalgia thanks to its late-1950s Edinburgh settings and show business theme. By contrast, Wrinkles is Ferreras' debut feature, Roca's name isn't well-known outside the graphic-novel community, there is a copious amount of Spanish-language dialogue, the film almost entirely takes place in the very un-magical surroundings of an anonymous care-facility and tackles uncomfortable issues. Word of mouth and critical support will therefore be crucial for Wrinkles -a genuine crowd pleaser deserving of the widest possible exposure. Film festival play should be a launch pad for one of the most accomplished Spanish films, from any genre, of recent years.

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Emilio (voiced by Alvaro Guevara) is a dignified, quietly spoken gent of unspecified advanced years, physically spry but mentally succumbing to the confusions and hallucinations of Alzheimer's. He's placed into a retirement home by his exasperated adult son Juan, where he's shown the ropes by wily, fast-talking Argentinian resident Miguel (Tacho Gonzalez).

Miguel is one of the more alert and astute "clients" of the institution, and thinks nothing of conning small amounts of cash from those more befuddled than himself to Emilio's bemused dismay. The script traces the changing course of Emilio's relationship with his new friend, an unmarried and childless man whose genially cynical façade might perhaps hide a more malevolent streak.

Economically adapted from Roca's critically-acclaimed 2007 text by four scriptwriters including Roca and Ferreras, Wrinkles takes a commendably unsentimental and nuanced approach to a complex subject, one that avoids melodramatic situations and simplistic characterizations while adhering to certain conventions of this particular sub-genre. While Emilio is essentially a well-meaning surrogate for the audience to explore the retirement home's spaces, ways and inmates, Miguel emerges as a fascinating, three-dimensional figure despite this being an old-fashioned example of 2-D animation, executed with 21st century digital technology.

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His caustic, acerbic dialogue gives Wrinkles a consistently sharp edge of humor that offsets, but does not trivialize, the sadness and tragedy of such material. There's no shortage of genuine poignancy here and though Nani Garcia's score largely hits conventional, predictable beats, each tear is hard earned and never simply “jerked.”

Ferreras' animation style is realistic and direct with close attention paid to tiny specifics of decor, clothing and gesture. Roca's book could clearly have been adapted into a more than satisfactory live-action feature, but the cartoon format, as well as being much closer to the source medium, allows for some brief, vivid flights of fancy as we're smoothly transported into happier moments from the previous lives of the characters or share their unreliable perceptions of their present.
Venue: San Sebastian
Production companies: Perro Verde Films, Cromosoma
Cast: Alvaro Guevara, Tacho Gonzalez, Mabel Rivera
Director/editor: Ignacio Ferreras
Screenwriters: Ángel de la Cruz, Paco Roca, Ignacio Ferreras, Rosanna Cecchini
Based on the book by: Paco Roca
Producers: Manuel Cristóbal, Oriol Ivern
Executive producers: María Arochena, Ángel de la Cruz, Toni Marín, Tono Folguera, Daniel Martínez
Director of photography: David Cubero
Music: Nani Garcia
Sales: Six Sales, Madrid
No rating, 89 minutes