Second Spring review - intriguing film about a woman with an unusual form of dementia (2024)

“We want you to see a doctor. You’ve changed, and not in a good way,” says Kathy’s underwhelming husband, Tim (Matthew Jure).

We don’t know what Kathy (Cathy Naden, making her film debut) was like before, but as things stand she seems to be following her impulses gaily and uninhibitedly. In the first scene, we see her chatting to Nick (Jerry Killick), a laid-back, pony-tailed gardener at the museum where she works as an archaeologist. She admires his vintage BMW. He takes her up on her request to go for a spin; then they have sex in the back seat.

This makes her late for a lecture she’s giving on Anglo-Saxon jewellery. She forgets the precise term for a brooch – a fibula – and this aberration puzzles her. Later, without a goodbye, she abandons her close friend Trish (Indra Ové) and her kids as they walk beside the Thames and instead heads off for sex with Nick on his houseboat.

Andy Kelleher’s unusual first feature (he’s made several documentaries about film directors such as Alan Clarke, Chris Petit and Carol Reed), with a screenplay by Martin Herron, is measured and luminous. And it looks beautiful, shot by cinematographer Jonas Mortensen in 16mm and 35mm, using the last available Fuji film stock.

The views of north Kent, around the Hoo peninsular, Nick’s childhood home, have a wonderfully soft, deep texture, with vast skies, expanses of water and flat fields while the reds and browns of hedgerows contrast with the street scenes and parks of London, mainly in Crouch End, Kings Cross and Hackney.

Second Spring review - intriguing film about a woman with an unusual form of dementia (1)Kathy, who has fronto-temporal degeneration, a rare form of dementia (and one that Terry Jones suffers from) is intriguing. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s blunt and honest, which raises questions about how much she’s repressed up till now. The tissue shrinkage in your frontal lobe, explains the doctor, causes a high sex drive, lack of awareness, empathy and planning ability. And language – it’s not that you’ve forgotten the words, it’s that your brain can’t retrieve them. Well, that’s something. At least it’s not Alzheimer’s, says Tim feebly.

Second Spring is unlike any recent films about dementia, such as The Father or Falling, partly because fronto-temporal degeneration is an uncommon variety that progresses slowly and usually affects younger people. And emotions here don't run high. As the title of the film suggests, this new Kathy may not be an altogether bad thing, at least, not for her. “You’re right, I’ve changed. I’m happy,” she tells a bemused Tim and Trish. Her marriage has been open, but moribund, for years it seems, and Tim, an architect, has a younger girlfriend. But they share a modern, glass-fronted house in north London – smooth, curved wooden furniture, a huge splashy abstract on the wall – fairly amicably.

For Kathy, this is no longer enough. “This is so boring,” she sighs as she lies down briefly beside Tim, who’s looking at architectural journals. But boring might be safer, under the circ*mstances, suggests Trish. Is Nick the right person for her at this time? Kathy doesn’t seem to be taking her condition seriously enough.

She goes off with another random stranger, gets drunk with him and dosses down on the Parkland Walk in Crouch End. When she wakes up, she remembers almost nothing. She stares, bewildered, at the bruises on her knees. It’s then that she agrees to have an MRI.

Second Spring review - intriguing film about a woman with an unusual form of dementia (2)Dialogue is minimal; silences, body language and facial expressions are more important. Slowly we see Nick, with his remarkably expressive face, starting to look askance at Kathy, though perhaps at first it suits him that she seems a little disassociated. She can’t tell him where she grew up, only that her mother was a hairdresser, which gives her the right to cut his hair. “I hope you watched her carefully, “ he says dubiously as she wields the scissors.

And the intensity of her feelings about the peninsular seems out of kilter. They go there for a weekend to stay in Nick’s dad’s house while he’s away and the land makes a huge impression on her. “I was just thinking I could live here,” she says, and Nick, looking perturbed, changes the subject by teaching her to skim stones (pictured above). Later she goes back there alone, obsessed with rumours she’s heard about the estuary being destroyed to make way for an airport.

The teasing relationship between Nick and his father David (a fine Eric Richard) is subtle and funny, and at first David takes Kathy in his stride, in spite of her intrusive questions about family photos and observations about the oddness of Nick’s face. But in the end it’s Kathy’s odd behaviour that has to be confronted. “It’s my brain, it’s not me,” she tells Nick, finally. “It’s a condition that makes me do rash things.” The eerie, clanging dissonance of trombonist Peter Zummo’s score is a perfect accompaniment to this unsettling, open-ended story.

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