The Patron Saints

(Canada, USA, 2011, 72 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
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Filmed over the course of five years in a single nursing home, Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky’s documentary The Patron Saints is entertaining, unnerving, and poignant all at once. Perhaps far gone from senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, some of these residents (most, but not all, seniors) have little sense of where, when, or why they are. Some have constructed fantasy lives for themselves; others have reverted to childlike states; others, perhaps most painfully, bemoan their situation with some self-awareness. Occasional visitors, local gossip, and even a hired performer break the monotony, but the passage of time looms large over the residents, at once both impossibly large and painfully scarce.

Documentary fans may draw comparisons to Frederick Wiseman’s early masterpiece about a hospital for the criminally insane, 1967’s Titicut Follies – and, indeed, The Patron Saints is a film worthy of that comparison. However, Cassidy and Shatzky’s film is no expose of a cruel institution. In contrast to the facility’s grim proximity to a landfill, the caretakers here appear almost uniformly patient, caring, and professional. If there’s an expose at work here, perhaps it’s of a larger societal impulse to cordon these people away from the public eye.

And that’s a key to understanding and, yes, enjoying this film’s bizarre humor and troubling insights: the residents here are too often ignored or forgotten, and appreciate being noticed. Incapable or unwilling to self-censor, these are people who say whatever is on their minds, giving us unforgettable access to a phase of human life we may never have looked at head-on before. (Eric Allen Hatch)

"The Patron Saints was the single best film I saw during the festival run of Putty Hill." - Matt Porterfield

"Mainly, this observational realism serves the filmmakers exceedingly well, creating a humane, almost elegiac atmosphere, with occasional flashes of black humour, all of it heightened by a soundtrack of choral music that culminates in Arvo Part’s ethereal version of My Heart’s in the Highlands." Kate Taylor, Globe & Mail

"Bleak, moving, expressionistic." NOW magazine