A call his father made him, without taking into account the time difference between Bogotá and Barcelona, put José Alejandro González on alert.
“I don’t want to worry you at this hour.” But I am forgetting things and the doctor says that soon I will lose my memory. I have thought a lot about you. It would do me good to see you.
José Alejandro had been abroad for eleven years, among other reasons encouraged by his father, Lázaro, who always told him to travel, to advance there in his career as a photographer and documentary director, why did he return? That’s why the call asking him to come back upset him even more.
What his father told him about his memory was added to what an aunt had told him days ago: that he saw Lazaro strange, that he sometimes asked him questions and did not know how to answer, that his neighbors noticed the same thing.
José Alejandro packed suitcases for the next day. Assembling suitcases, in your case, is above all keeping the camera that you always carry with you. Since he was a child, he has been filming everything. When he arrived in Bogotá to be with his father, that was precisely what he began to do: film him. Adding images that at the beginning had no form and that over time ended up becoming a film, Lázaro, in which he records the story of his father and accompanies him during the last years of his life, when his mental deterioration was exhausting him.
“Everything happened very step by step,” recalls José Alejandro. The first thing to become evident was the language: it started to go away ”. At 65, Lázaro couldn’t find the words to express himself. I tried to say something, but nothing came out. Anguish, the effort to achieve it, made him fill his eyes with tears on many occasions.
That pain was recorded on film. That impotence. But also the smiles when father and son managed to communicate. They created their own language that had nothing to do with words. There were the looks and the smiles, at the beginning. Also some particular sounds that they made with their lips: “It was a language that we invented. In those noises my dad was saying many things ”.
Lázaro González Mejía was born in Pijao, Quindío. After several years of working in the fields alongside his brothers, he arrived in Bogotá. He took technical courses in systems and started working in that area at the Banco de la República.
During those first years of his life in the city he met Pilar Vargas, his neighbor in the Modelia neighborhood.
They married when she was 17, fifteen years younger than him. They had two children, Carlos and José Alejandro.
When they were teenagers, their parents separated. In the days when Lázaro called his son to Spain, he already lived alone, in a house in the same neighborhood. He had been retired for several years. “He always did a lot of sports and ate well.
It was rare that he was going to get sick, ”says his son. But he was very lonely. He shut himself up and had lost contact with people. Perhaps that influenced the development of the disease. I dont know”. To the outside, he was in charge of showing that everything was going well, that he knew how to handle his loneliness.
Although the family was scattered, each one lived by his side, the new situation of Lazarus reunited them. Pilar returned, the children returned.
The four of them were back under the same roof. Lazaro, his wife and José Alejandro appear in the film. Carlos, the eldest son, decided not to go out. It is not easy to bring to the screen, before everyone’s eyes, such an intimate and painful story.
But Lazaro is much more than the testimony of how a disease progresses. It is also the story of the love that a son feels for his father, it is the story of how a family has a new opportunity.
“My dad’s illness was very symbolic. He united us around him, which never happened when he was well. In addition, it was leading him to absolute silence. In the end he just watched. Metaphorically, the way things happen also says a lot ”.
The diagnosis that the doctors gave to Lázaro Gónzalez was frontotemporal dementia.
Term that groups brain disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes, associated with language and behavior.
It is not known what can cause it and its symptoms vary, although they usually include the loss of ability to express and understand language, changes in behavior and personality, and movement disorders.
José Alejandro noticed that his father – who had always been a serious man, even a little distant – began to become like a child.
As hard as that could be, it was tender to him: her fragility touched him. On one occasion he had to travel to Caquetá to do photographic work that required him to be away from home for a couple of months. He remembers the farewell: his father, in the garage, about to cry.
“It hurt him that I was leaving. Like a child whose father leaves. The roles were exchanged ”. Lázaro began to do spontaneous things that no one had ever thought of doing before, precisely because of his temperament: dancing with Pilar in the kitchen, for example, as seen in a scene from the movie.
He dressed in badly buttoned clothes, got out of the shower without removing all the soap. José Alejandro smiled with those things. If that was the case, he buttoned it up well and that’s it. “For us they were very beautiful moments,” he says. Even though what was coming was a tragedy ”.
My dad’s illness was very symbolic. He gathered us around him, which never happened when he was fine
The disease progressed without respite. The dementia that affected Lázaro – which is sometimes confused in his initial diagnosis with Alzheimer’s – is progressive, it does not have a treatment to stop it.
At the beginning of the film, Lázaro was traveling with his son to Santa Fe de Antioquia and the Amazon, seeking to relive the journeys they made together many years ago. On those runs he still walked steadily, although his orientation had begun to fail him.
There was still the laughter – sometimes even laughter, for no reason – and his warm gaze was still on the other. All this ended up being lost.