Reviewed by Bobbi Ruggiero
I had never heard of Usher’s syndrome before my friend, Lisa Olivieri, began filming her documentary, Blindsided. A genetic disease that starts in childhood, Usher’s causes profound hearing loss, as well as progressive loss of vision. Two important senses fading at the same time. It seemed almost too much to comprehend. How does someone with this disability thrive and cope against such difficult obstacles? To add to this mix, Lisa’s subject, a feisty woman named Patricia Livingstone, was also a lesbian. What unfolded before my eyes during the 18 years Lisa filmed Patricia was not just a documentary about a woman dealing with difficult and overwhelming disabilities, but a woman dealing with a marginalized issue in a marginalized society: domestic violence.
When we first meet Patricia, we see her trying to finish a painting she had started years before, when her sight was somewhat better. She’s struggling. But she is determined. And she refuses to give in. You can feel her frustration as she scrapes the brush against the canvas, the paint wavering in between the lines she had painted when she could see. As the documentary progresses, this painting becomes a symbol of all she has lost.
We meet her partner, Karen, who starts off kind enough, although a bit odd. But soon, we see Karen changing. Bursts of anger at Patricia that lead to “blows that she could not see coming.” And then the addition of another woman into the relationship, a choice that Patricia desperately does not want any part in. But Patricia depends on Karen. Her voice is not heard. There’s a brief hint at the cruelty that ensues, both emotionally and sexually. And as a viewer, I felt physically ill watching the demise of their relationship and Patricia’s lack of agency.
But Patricia, never one to wallow, moves on with her life, albeit one difficult and slow step at a time. Still dependent on Karen, she continues to live with her, although their relationship is now platonic. Her hearing has deteriorated to the point where she is only able to communicate through signing into her hand. There is no hope for her eyesight. It is devastating to witness.
We then see the light at the end of the tunnel. Patricia becomes the recipient of a cochlear implant, which opens up her world in ways she never thought possible. She joins a dating site. She meets a woman named Bella. They marry, Patricia looking stunning in a white dress. A beautiful smile on her face. During this phase, Olivieri lulls the audience into a sense that all is going to end well for our heroine. But her disability seems to attract only bad moths to her bright flame. Their relationship has many cracks on the surface, and we become painfully and heartbreakingly aware that Patricia’s dependence and lack of sight is used against her. Again.
Blindsided touches upon many timely movements and topics: the Me, Too Movement, domestic violence, domestic violence in lesbian relationships, and the abuse perpetrated against people with disabilities, to name a few. But these topics are not thrown in the viewer’s face; rather, they are slowly unraveled scene by scene. The beauty and importance of this film is that Olivieri showcases Patricia’s elegance, rather than her profound disabilities. She shines throughout, donning her red lipstick and black beret. We witness her vulnerability, yet we also see how tough she can be. Olivieri puts a face to something very few of us will ever have to endure. And the ending, both poignant and touching, leaves the viewer with many feelings, most of all, hope.
For more information on Blindsided, please visit: www.lisaolivieri.com.
Bobbi Ruggiero is a writer living south of Boston.