THE EMPTY BOX is the story of Toussaint (Jimmy Jean-Louis). When he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he is thrust into the care of his daughter Jazmin (Claudia Sainte-Luce, who also directs this film). While Jazmin isn’t fussy about the idea of suddenly taking care of her estranged father, she does what needs to be done and takes him in. What follows is a curious reunion between father and daughter, along with an elegant journey into Toussaints sickness-induced visions.
THE EMPTY BOX certainly could have become a muddy wade through some very depressing waters. That’s usually the deal with most films about one persons slow slide down the final year of one’s life. But Sainte-Luce sidesteps that morose tone deftly with her writing and direction. Instead of portraying Toussaints Alzheimer’s as a descent into madness, she uses it as a way to celebrate his life. Horrors he previously encountered are revisited, but so too are the joys. Jazmin learns who her father was as we do, drifting in and out of consciousness.
It’s a controversial approach to depicting Alzheimer’s, but it’s also such a beautiful approach, that one can’t help but get swept up in it.
Perhaps what keeps this film from getting so mired down in misery is the way it takes subtle joy in its small moments. Seeing Jazmin’s cat act leery when Toussaint first arrives brings a chuckle. Toussaint and Jazmin’s boyfriend bond over whiskey brings warm memories of easier times for both. Even hearing the boyfriend describe his film as “Buñuel meets Vin Trier” is amusing in the middle of all this hardship.
Those little moments carry great currency, and Sainte-Luce knows just when to employ them.
THE EMPTY BOX is about family and legacy. We can feel the strain put in Jazmin – her life wasn’t exactly what one would call “structured”, but to see it thrown for such a loop still evokes admiration and pathos. Likewise, we are endeared to Toussaint. We worry about him, we wonder about him, and ultimately we miss him. We realize we could have enjoyed an entire movie dedicated to his extraordinary life…and we smile when we realize that’s exactly what we got.
In the end, what we’re left with is sorrow and shock…both coming as a slight surprise since we should have anticipated things, but clearly didn’t. Perhaps that’s the takeaway for THE EMPTY BOX, that no matter how much we think we are ready for the end, we so seldom are.