Never Wipe Away tears Without Gloves
BBC4-a three part mini-series:
Episodes entitled: Love, Disease & Death
This is a Documentary/ Drama about the lives of a group of gay friends in 1980’s Stockholm: The main characters being Rasmus, Benjamin & Paul. It is narrated in the first person by Benjamin.
The story is told from the current day and flashbacks to how Rasmus came to be in hospital. There are flashbacks to Rasmus and Benjamin’s childhood and also future flash-forwards in time.
In Swedish with subtitles-actually i am not sure! I didn’t really notice.
Nb. There is a warning on the first episode that it contains a depiction of graphic sex however there isn’t really much to see of moving parts so to speak. But it did show me that it can happen in a position that i was unaware of. The good old fashioned missionary position in fact.
The series is not for the medically faint-hearted as it’s opening and recurring flash forward scene is narrated by Rasmus. Who is shown to be dying slowly, painfully and horribly of AIDS.
(Nb. or more correctly, an infection sustained whilst being HIV positive with a compromised immune system)
Rasmus is being tended to by two nurses in full infection control regalia who are washing his suppurating bed sores. Or a bed sore on top of his Kaposi’s Sarcoma plaque on his back. (a sore scaly patch of skin) The nurse seemed a little less than gentle about it to me.
Rasmus, turned over onto his back again and wearing nothing but white loincloth type underwear, weeps in pain and the second nurse, having de-gloved, wipes away his tear. The stern reprimand that follows for this action from the not as gentle as she could have been nurse is what forms the title of the Series.
We see Rasmus in flashbacks to his early childhood in idyllic Varmmeland, brought up by two adoring parents. But Rasmus is bullied at school. Beaten up in the playground and later called “homo” as a teenager by “layabouts who never finished school”.
This happens as Rasmus trundles along on the back of a truck on a strapped down chair festooned with balloons, by his adoring family on the way to his graduation party celebration.
The two main characters Benjamin and Rasmus are both very handsome and sweet young men. The actor who plays Benjamin in particular has a face that the screen loves: huge, doe-like saucer brown eyes and a face like a young and innocent elf lost in the forest.
Confusingly, for a while, both young men’s childhoods are interspersed as flashbacks with the present day.
Confusing as it took me a while to discern whose parents belonged to which child. As the mothers looked quite alike. Mostly we see flashbacks of Rasmus’s childhood and the beautiful forests and lakes of his village.
It maybe that these scenes of light and sunshine and mostly happy childhood memories are there mainly for the viewer. To provide light relief from the current day story progressing in inexorable time.
Some of these repeated flashback scenes in Rasmus’s life become tiresome after a while. Since their message or point became laboured with repetition. Leading the viewer to regard the other flashbacks and dialogue as being potentially message laden.
As in the fixed theme of Rasmus writing, rather rebelliously for his ordered parents, his name on the window pane on the sunny balcony at home. Rasmus’s Father is shown tut tutting and declaring that he had:
“only just washed that window!”. Then he sprays and rubs Rasmus’s name away.
Rasmus writes his name in the misty window of the train too, as he journeys away from his village to Stockholm, age 18.
Yes, we get it, Rasmus is dying now, his life will be wiped out.
This pointed visual message led me to wonder if another scene from Rasmus’s childhood where he goes blackberry picking in the forest with his parents was also making a point.
As in when Rasmus complains that his wellies (Wellington boots) are too hot. His father replies that:
“you have to protect your feet from the adders that might bite you”.
A condom related theme? Considering that we know from the beginning of the story that Rasmus is dying of AIDs: i felt that this was a possibility.
The appearance and re-appearance at rare intervals of an unusual white elk in the village also seemed to be
message laden. As Rasmus’s loving Father explained that these elks were “different” but still valued by ancient villagers as magic and forbidden to hunt.
The story centres around how Rasmus comes to Stockholm to live with his aunt and slowly, with trepidation at first, joins a gay club. Where there is a worryingly thin man dancing on his own downstairs to disco music.
From there Rasmus meets the charismatic and diva-like Paul who likes to party and hold soiree’s for all his friends. & Rasmus meets and falls in love with Benjamin.
Then one by one nearly all of the group of friends get ill and die. It’s not ice cream tub TV.
The reactions of Rasmus and Benjamin’s parents are both expected and unexpected. There is some small hope at the end. However bitter-sweet tinged that is.
I did like the dramatic tease by which the story was working backwards in time from an apparent end point with other disparate stories brought together at the end. We are shown glimpses of this future time interspersed with the current day and the past.
This series could be described as the dark side or the sequel to the background of Armistead Maupin’s series of books: Tales Of the City.
Nb. There were several small touches referencing cross infection risks taken by the group of friends whether
knowingly or unknowingly.
Such as when the men go clubbing and are shown trying to keep track of whose drink is whose. When one of them has AIDS. The sarcastic, brave and sardonic Paul seems to deliberately drink from either the dying man’s glass or a random glass? as a show of bravado.
The camera focuses in close up on a glass of champagne on the make-up table of a young actress in a play with one of the group who has just been told he is HIV positive. He picks up her glass and drinks from it. Later we see the actress rubbing lip balm on her lips.
We are voyeurs to the possible encounter in which young Rasmus may have become infected. Since his companion has a large Kaposi’s Sarcoma on his back. When Rasmus asks:
“what is that on your back?”
(careful Rasmus as his parents keep soothing their worry by telling themselves as the News stories about AIDS appear) the man replies that it is an allergy.
& The rumours of what happens to the dead bodies of AIDS patients turns out to be disturbingly and horrifically true.