Dundalk couple's story told in moving MPT film


November 30, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

There is a moment in "Marge and Walter" that will jar some viewers.

Near the end of this delicate and touching documentary, Marge Lewandowski, a 71-year-old retired crossing guard from Dundalk, starts to cry at the thought of coming home to an empty house at night. Someone from behind the camera gets up, walks into the picture and hugs Ms. Lewandowski, easing the woman's pain.

But documentary-makers are not supposed to help or hug the people they are filming, are they? Remember a few weeks back, when Diane Sawyer and ABC's "PrimeTime" showed abuse in VA hospitals by letting the camera roll for several days on an unattended man who was clearly in great pain. They said it wasn't their job to help the patient but to film his individual suffering, so their documentation would help many other victims.

"Marge and Walter," which airs at 10:30 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), is the kind of documentary that dares to follow its heart. And for this 28-minute slice of empathy and love, that hug seems more than all right. In fact, many viewers are probably going to want to applaud it.

The film chronicles the attempts of Ms. Lewandowski to care for her husband, who has suffered a stroke and the loss of one leg.

It works on many levels. There's a world of information about what life is like on a nuts-and-bolts level for two people, one in a wheelchair, one tryint to care for him. How do they cope? Who drives the car? How do they get to the hospital? What's a good day for them? What's a bad day?

There's a love story involving Mrs. Lewandowski, Mr. Lewandowski and their dog, a gentle collie. Although Mr. Lewandowski's pronunciation is not the best, he still tries for a few bars of a jaunty love song with Mrs. Lewandowski's encouragement. And she defers to his occasional dictate that she may not drive the car, even though he depends on her for rides to the hospital -- and even for help getting into the car. There's a profile in courage with Mrs. Lewandowski wiping away her tears and carrying on.

But, ultimately, this film is a celebration of the capacity to love and the spirit that pushes back the darkness and believes against great odds in tomorrow. The camera looks at Mrs. Lewandowski's lined face and finds the beauty of her spirit reflected in it.

Susan Hadary-Cohen and William Whiteford, a local team of documentary producers, present the pictures so that we, too, see the beauty of Mrs. Lewandowski. Their film reveals more about relationships -- the pain and joy found in them -- in 28 minutes than such celebrated "relationship" shows as "thirtysomething" often do in an hour. "Marge and Walter" is television that cares.

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