THE MOTHER (2003) revisited

A bleak film about modern life for the up and coming rich of London and their disfunctional relationships. a mother trapped and dominated by her husband and not really happy with the role she was forced into; a daughter who blames mother’s lack of affection for her current unhappiness; a son who is successful in the accepted sense of the word but has no time for love or enjoyment of his family, his kids glued to TV or machines; his friend, who has failed to make it rich and works as a builder for his rich friend – resentfully, as it turns out. 
BUT the start of the relationship between the mother and the younger man seemed to me to have real tenderness and enjoyment of each other on both sides, and I was surprised by his coke fuelled, bitter, cruel outburst later. He can only relate at a superficial level and seemingly deals with his feelings of failure/loneliness/alienation by having lots of sex. As usual the women are shown wanting a full, emotionally engaging relationship, whereas he finds their demands for such a thing ultimately controlling and  destructive.Is this more the norm for many men in our society – sexual relationships leading to responsibilities which they fear? Man still meant to be the eventual provider? as illustrated by the son and his wife. 
I was unconvinced by the mother’s explicit drawings of her lover – I personally feel this is a male approach, coming from the writer, and was included merely as a plot device.  
Was the final message one of hope – mother found her independence and set off travelling? But this only because of the money left to her by her husband. 

Thoughts of P. Case member of the Ealing Over 60 Network. Pam could not stay for the discussion. She was not present when I had mentioned that some academics proposed that the film provoke our prior conceptions and values that challenge stereotypes.

Of the 24 people who came to the film session of EON only 16 stayed for the discussion. One member (the one male member of three who stayed for the discussion) declared that the only good point of the film was that the older woman enjoyed having sex. He was reminded that her desire was in the context of unpleasant selfish family. The majority of contributions were about the betrayal of the daughter by her mother and the impossibility of suspending disbelief . Nobody saw in the film a challenge to stereotype. (see previous blog The Mother or Thatcher Britain )



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ETERNITY AND A DAY (1998)

There is a huge difference between my reactions to Eternity and a Day in my early 60s and now at 84. In 1998 Central Station was also released . At the time I focused my attentionon the representation of old women in feature films.

Out of interest I also viewed Eternity and A Day (EAAD) because it  featured the relationship of an old man and a child and dismissed it as irrelevant to my research. 

In my 60s Death was remote, the past was safely tucked away in an effort to deal with retirement and negotiating my identity as an ‘old woman’. Nowadays the past and death are familiar visitors. I viewed EAAD again and was shocked by its impact on me. The gender of the protagonist Alexander did not seem relevant since the poetic and sometimes intriguing treatment of his memories and of his coming to terms with death touched me deeply. Although I am not terminally ill, at 84 my brain often revisits the past in a sort of life review exercise and memories surface unexpectedly. 

The structure of the film is so complex that it is only after hours of trying to find a way of writing about it in its entirety that I realised that I was unable to express in words a work that is essentially a beautiful film poem about ageing and death. 

The travelling and panning shots, the stills, the long takes (average shot length (around 2mins), the importance of buildings, the contrasts between the sea views and the noisy cars in dark streets, the sometimes imperceptible editing between different time frames, the colours, the subtle acting, the music and the poetic script and language all contribute to the impact of the film.  

The following is a very personal account of my thoughts, feelings and reactions to Eternity and a Day. 

The title sequences:  It took me sometime to realise that the in the only flashback in the film expresses the subject of the film:  memories emerging into consciousness…. It comes out of the water every once in a while just for a moment  when the  morning star is home sick for the earth and stops to look. to everything stops and TIME stops……

Flash backs and memories: 

My first surprise was Alexander’s first memory triggered by the reading of a letter from his deceased wife Anna by his daughter. The memory was of a visit of the extended family on the birth of his daughter. While the titles flashback sequence showed Alexander as a child, I perceived him in the following memories as the observer of past events. 

Importance of the environment 

I lived by the sea and left the family house in my 20s. I was touched by the presence of the sea throughout the film. The sea as a site of pleasure but also dangerous and a symbol of death. The sea as nature in contrast with the dark streets with traffic. 

The family house and its loss  also struck an emotional chord in me. 

It is the image of human shapes hanging on the border wire that gave me a clue of how to interpret the film.  The shapes were definitely not human and yet expressed poignantly the tragedy of refugees.  This image made me reluctant to interpret the scenes featuring the 8 years old refugee boy with no name and Alexander’s trip to the border as a realist description. It is when I read the scenes featuring the child not only as a comment on the exploitation of refugee children but also as a device to expose Alexander examining the last hours of his life that I could make sense of certain scenes. (However I am still pondering on the image of the three cyclists dressed in yellow at the end of the film)

I feel I am not qualified to dwell on the sequences that involve Alexander’s identity as a troubled poet considering his creativity and his death, the poet as an exile. I just do not understand the meaning of the buying of words. In this piece I would like to look how Alexander’s relationships are expressed.  

Alexander and his deceased father. Their relationship is only commented on by his mother who said that they were not very close.  You always doubted him and that hurt him. 

Alexander and his carer: It is to his kind carer that he declares that he is going to die. She offers her help and support but he refuses. His visit to her village is surreal. The wedding ceremony involving the whole village and the bride and groom dance is interrupted. Alexander asks his carer to look after his dog. The ceremony stops and starts again. For me these sequences show interest in the Greek traditions but also the way the needs of the boss prevail over those of the employed. 

Alexander and his daughter: The relationship is very interesting. The first memory sequence occurs when his daughter reads aloud her mother’s letter. This memory is full of the joy of the baby’s birth. The extended family visit and view the baby in a cradle on the beach and socialise. But in real time there is a cold contact with the daughter and son-in-law who refuse to look after the dog and have sold the house that is due to be demolished. He does not divulge that he is dying. 

Alexander and Anna his wife: 

The self absorption of the poet and distance from his wife  are well represented.  Anna: All you think about is your book… I am trying to kidnap you between two books… You live your own life beside us beside your daughter and me but not with us… I know one day you’ll leave. On the beach during a party when he leaves her to climb the cliff and relive his childhood she calls him traitor twice. 

This relationship is replayed when a young student couple board the bus. This time Alexander is the neutral observer  

MAN:… Maria must you walk away when I’m talking to you. I don’t see why you have to be angry. We need new artistic forms MariaWe need new forms of expression and if we can’t have them better to have nothing.… She gets up… Why do you walk away when I am talking to you? She drops the the bouquet of flowers she was holding and walks away. He runs after her off the bus. 

His relationship with his mother reads so true and touching.   Alexander as a child in the title sequences hears her laughing when in the early morning he escapes to go swimming with his friends.

Alexander and his mother : 

Later she looks after the new born baby, or she is waiting for him at the beach party. On a boat-trip she confides to her son about dreaming of her husband. She comments that Alexander and his father did not get on.   

The visit of Alexander to his mother at the hospital to say goodbye is interrupted by a memory. She is sitting vacant on the side of the bed, gets to the window and drawing the curtain calls for Alexander to come back for his meal. He recalls the beach party when he sheltered her running for cover in the wind and the rain.

She comes back to the bed …  the knives and forks the silver ones, my dowry, where have you put them. She nearly falls and Alexander catches her and helps her back onto the bed : yesterday they were still here.  He sits back on the chair and looks at her.  …Why mother Why didn’t anything work out the way we expected? Why Why must we rot helplessly torn between pain and desire  Why have I lived my life in exile. Why have I felt at home only in those rare moments when granted the grace to speak my language my own language When I could still recover lost words or retrieve forgotten words from the silence. Why is it that only then could I hear the sound of my footsteps echoing in my house again why?. He kisses her on the forehead. Tell me mother. Turns the light off.  He walks to the door in the dark: … Tell me mother ? why didn’t we know how to love?  

Goodbye to the boy: In the next sequence the boy comes to say goodbye and the two hug and declare their mutual fear. I see this as Alexander saying goodbye to his introspections. The next sequence is the highly praised bus sequence. Here we see a relaxed smiling Alexander observing the passengers – and himself- in a detached manner: the political activist, the student couple, the musicians, the poet. The poet declares life is sweet.

The last sequence of the film is of Alexander visiting his house. The lobby is strewn with broken stones. The doors are shut. A long pan from the door to the window with a view of the flat next door and back again is followed by what I would describe as neither a flashback nor a memory but a fantasy, a declaration of love to Anna. 

I am writing to you by the sea again and again I write to you I talk to you.

When you happen to recall this day remember  …remember that I looked at it as if I were all eyes caressed it as if I were all hands I stand here and wait for you trembling. Give me this day. 

The front doors open to reveal a baby in a pram watched by grandmother,  people in white are singing.  Anna comes towards him. He walks towards her:… Anna, shall we dance? I know you don’t like me to but today is my day. They dance in close loving contact and kiss … Anna I’m not going to the hospital I’m not going …  to the hospital Anna I’m not going… I’d like to make plans for tomorrow ………

Anna walks backwards towards the sea. 

Whats tomorrow Anna. I asked you once:  how long does tomorrow lasts and you said : Eternity and a day.

She disappears. He puts his hand over his heart. …My passage over to the other side tonight. With words I brought you  back again and you are here. And all is true and all is waiting …. my little flower …. 

He walks into the sea. 

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“Time Goes By” quote: Ronni Bennett on films

In the media hubbub surrounding the recent Academy Awards, I saw a headline announcing that movie producers are now embracing older actors and stories about old people. No, they are not – not unless their name is Judi Dench or Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren. (It helps to be British.)

And in general, there are just three storylines:

 The aforementioned extreme sports stories (that always imply “if he can do it, what’s wrong with you?”)

 Love in old age (aren’t they cute)

 Spunky elders (with or without terminal disease) who carry on through every adversity, designed and guaranteed to leave the entire audience weeping when they die at the end

In supporting roles, elders are almost always the objects of ageist humor.

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SWEET BEANS (2015)

I have been unable to attend the Brent U3A Film Group for a while but did manage it this month and saw Sweet Bean (2015). I had missed it at London Film Festival three years ago and looked forward to it. 

It was greatly appreciated by the members of the group for its subtlety, its gentleness, and its emotional impact. 

Unfortunately I did not engage in its ‘sweetness’. I found the pace too slow, the many close-ups interminable, the references to the connections between cooking and nature repetitive and was underwhelmed by its shots of the famous Japanese cherry blossom flowering season.  

I found the narrative and the choice of the three characters as outsiders contrived: The teenager in conflict with her family, the young man in debt and ridden with the guilt of disabling a person in a fight and the old woman in a leprosy colony. 

The most interesting aspect of the film to me was the fact that Tokue at 76 years of age was living in a leper colony and that the stigma of the disease was still strong. The film seemed to be contemporary. 

Reading around the subject I am informed that Japanese laws about the segregation of people with leprosy were  passed in 1907, 1931, 1953 and only abrogated in 1996.   

The film did not touch me emotionally but made me think of the different reasons for the three characters’ isolation. In the teenager, the conflict with her mother seems common place. The young man’s guilt at the consequence of his drinking and violence was more interesting. But it is   the old woman’s story that shocked me and stimulated me to know more about leprosy, the cruelty of segregation and prejudice until late in 20th Century in Japan. 

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Ali Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Fear eats the soul at EON (1974)

Attendance at the film session was 25 this month. Unfortunately my voice recorder failed me and I am unable to report objectively on  the very astute, lively, animated  contributions. All the aspects of this  fascinating film were addressed and reflected its complexity: its relevance today, the isolation of the old and immigrants, our inner prejudices, cultural differences, objectivation of man’s body, the cinematography, the need to belong and more. 

Do have a look at the two posts dated October 30th and November 14th 2016 

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Finding Your Feet (2018)

Two films about old people attracted my attention this week: Finding Your Feet (2018) and Eternity And A Day (1998). I had seen the latter 19-20 years ago but I only remembered the two characters : an old man and a little boy. Putting this 2hours+ Greek film aside I viewed Finding Your Feet with my partner on DVD at home.
With such a cast (Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Joanna Lumley, Timothy Spall, David Hayman) we wondered how it escaped, on its release (2018), my keen eyes (and my friends’ who follow films about old women.)

In spite of the more or less favourable reviews we were bemused by the dullness of this film. I was specially stricken by the feeling of being patronised without being able to fault the acting. My partner dismissed the film as a confection created by following a recipe with characters he did not believe in and a cliché narrative. I needed to go to the source of my discomfort and viewed the interviews with all the people responsible for this concoction.

In the first instance I perceived Joanna Lumley as an actor who with little spare time condescended to appear briefly in a film about old people. I was struck by the close-ups of her face and lack of depth of character. At the time Lumley was 72. There was not a wrinkle, a fold around the eyes, the mouth, the neck. In her interview there is a tinge of ‘me and them’ attitude.
The rest of the cast was more believable mainly due to the actors who knew each other well, had previously acted together and projected their friendly relationships onto the screen. While the actors all aged 60+ demonstrate in their own lives and interviews no ageist attitudes, the characters and narrative were not more than clichés after clichés about old women, I guess directed at an older audience.

It is in the interviews with the writers (Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft) both aged 40 that I found this ageist outlook. The two main female characters are two estranged sisters and the film shows how they get together. The older sister, Bif, lives the care free life of what can be described as a ‘hippy’. She has a male friend Charlie who has sold his house to finance a care home for his demented wife. At the beginning of the film Sandra the younger sister discovers that her husband, recently knighted,  had an affair with her best friend for the last five years. She leaves him and take refuge with her sister in a council flat. In cliché after cliché, including a trip to Rome, a dance performance, Bif dies, and Sandra joins Charles. The dance class and performance of a group of old people is the subject of many commentaries in reviews.

I just wonder why the DVD includes interviews of all the contributors responsible for this film and their comments on the characters, their back stories, what happens to them and details of the production. Is it aimed at school students of film studies? Or to be more controversial to educate the presumed target: Old People audience?  

Comments by the writers:
Characters: Sandra: She is the classic woman behind every great man. She is waiting for retirement for a life to begin. It is the universal story of women waiting – losing their identity and waiting to reinvent themselves when they are non longer needed to support everyone else.
Bif: maverick bonviveur she doesn’t care what other people think.

The feel good romance : : we had a lot of fun with that. The classic references : Adam’s Rib, Bringing up Baby, It’s as Good as it gets.

What they hope audiences will take from the film: maybe they will question their lives maybe take a risk themselves maybe do something brave “it is that pottery class that you do not want to go to maybe because you are shy or … It does not have to be dance specific. It is inspiring….

There is no doubt that there is more evidence in the extended interviews on the DVD that the film was conceived as a feel good film about old people. The producer asked what attracted her to the project: its primary focus on people of a certain age….. but actually it reaches far more than that … the message about a leap of faith, giving life a second chance. The director: ….. better to jump of the cliff and keep running and keep going and have some passion.

It seems to me that the film was conceived as a film with a message. A message to old people, a feel good film about old people, for old people and I tend to agree with the review in Bouquets & Brickbats, 1st March 2018
Viewers can easily tell the difference between a genuine story and a marketing exercise. With Finding Your Feet I simply cannot escape the feeling that behind all those light-hearted escapades lurks a mean-spirited attempt to part older viewers from their money – and try as I might, I can’t quite forgive it for that.

  • For films by numbers see Oct 12. 2012 post in this blog Hope Springs: Instruction manual
    For Old Women at work example see: Celia Imrie was filming during the day and  appearing in King Lear with Glenda Jackson at night
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Eat, Drink, Man, Woman – Chu

Eat Drink Man Woman (referred to as EDMW) is described by the majority of reviewers as a film about a clash between Father and Daughters, between Tradition and Modernity. Few have commented on Chu as an old man. EDMW is structured like a large puzzle composed of many small puzzles each one complete and each one having a special theme. What I am looking at in this post is the Old Man theme.  Chu has been a widower for the last 16 years and has three adult daughters who live with him.  Chu Jia-Jen – the eldest (D1), Chu Jia-Chien – the middle (D2), Chu Jia-Ning (D3) – the youngest. 

Chu the Master chef: is established in the credit sequences when he is seen cooking for the ritual family lunch in his kitchen. This kitchen intrigued me when I first saw the film. It does not have the character of a home kitchen or a restaurant. It is really a way of conveying how expert Chu is in his skills.  30+knives and cleavers hang on the wall, the table is laden with a variety of containers from cooking vessel, to beautiful serving plates. Stewing pots, frying pans are evident. In the yard earthenware from small to very large, hanging lengths of onions, herbs and the chicken fill the space.

In this environment we see Chu using many ways of preparing and cooking a variety of food. He catches a live fish from its bucket, descales it, fillets it, flours it, fries it. He gets hold of a chicken in the coop, under the eyes of a group of frogs, and then through a complicated of steps cooks it and arranges it in a china serving plate. The speed at which he slices meat or vegetables, the rapid stuffing of parcels is fascinating. A scan of the wall shows a series of professional photos testifying to the many different stages of his career. More than a man cooking a meal for his three daughters, this montage demonstrates all the skills needed to achieve the title of Chef that we realise Chu has attained.
This is confirmed by an urgent call for him to rescue a situation at the restaurant where he is the Chef. He leaves everything and rushes out. We are then introduced to a restaurant with an  impressive number of tables, and a huge kitchen with a crowd of busy staff.  He is greeted by a rather agitated maitre d’hotel who helps him put his chef’s uniform and implores him to save the day. A group of cooks and Old Wen chef gather around listening with respect to his instructions on how to repair the mistakes.  The maitre d’hotel is relieved.  

Chu’s friend: Old Wen is a family friend and permits Chu to express himself freely.  When a young kitchen assistant is rude to Chu it is Old Wen who restrain Chu from reacting aggressively. Over a drink Chu declares that he hopes  that the daughters leave home so he can have a quiet life. He is depressed, his sense of taste is getting worse and worse and he quotes: ‘your appetite is done when the dish is done. Eat, drink, it pisses me off.  Is that all there is in life?’   Old Wen replies with another saying : Good sound is not in the ear, Good taste is not in mouth and good sexGod knows where ……When Old Wen dies Chu is devastated and with D2 takes care of the last rites.

Chu’s role as Father:  In the mornings after his daily jog he is seen waking up the three daughters. He does the cooking, the washing up, the laundry. He even puts their clothes away though not always to the right sister. He cooks the Sunday lunches that he considers as a ritual to be preserved for the three daughters.  The table is laden with mouth-watering dishes and everybody shares. He does not talk much but is very  sensitive to the slightest expression on their faces.   Chu looking worried starts a sentence: In the past two days … but he stops  when he sees the imperceptible facial expression of D2 and asks Chu: something wrong? D2: no it is fine – Chu questioning face – D2: nothing a …nothing  – Chu: say it – D2: the ham is over-smoked –  D1: it’s fine. Father probably forgot to taste it D2: or his taste is getting worse – Chu: my taste is fine.  He leaves the table rather upset. In his absence, the daughters talk about Mrs. Lian, mother of their friend Jin-Rong, who is  back from the USA unable to adapt to the exile. Mrs. Liang is a smart old woman, very talkative. As the daughters comment of the possibility that she will provide companionship for the father. He is back . Chu: like I have time to gossip after taking care of you three …these past two days… Seeing D2’s’ expression:  What now? D2 interrupts: I have a little announcement to make and declares that she purchased a modern new apartment and would move away. Chu comments laconically about the wisdom of investing in property. When the property company loses all of D2’s apartment and savings  Chu does not comment except to say that she can still live in his house. 

HOW THE SISTERS LOOK AT THEIR FATHER:  The sisters consider the ritual lunch as a chore.  In the absence of their father called urgently they discuss the situation. When D2 announces that she will leave soon to live in her flat, D1 is sombre. D2 understands that it is not fair to leave D1 to care for the old man but he can barely stand the sight of her. She lives in a different world. D3 very down to earth does not see a problem and that this is bound to happen. While D2 understands her sister’s upset she carries on saying the father does not need them anymore. D2 declares that  what he really needs is a companion his own age like  Mrs. Liang . D3 : we’ve tried setting him up and its been a disaster the only true love in his life was our mother. There follows an argument about the marital relationship of their parents seen differently:  D1 maintains that the relationship was based on real old-fashioned respect and values while D2 asserts that it was an old-fashioned war that ended when Mother died.

This is followed by the scene of D1 and her close friend Jin-Rong debating the situation. They compare the friend’s mother Mrs. Liang  who wants to live  with her daughter and. D1 ‘same here father wants to live with me’.  Jin-Rong : ‘it is not the same. Chu is much stronger than my mum. He takes care of himself and others’. D1: ‘my Dad needs attention too. I will take care of him for the rest of his life. Friend: ‘I am sure he does not want that.’ (Once again we see Lee’s skill in irony in dropping hints that will make sense later in the film.) 

However D2’s attitude towards her father changes completely when in hospital to visit Old Wen she catches a sight of her father. She starts worrying about him:  Is he all right? She accompanies him to  Old Wen death rituals and supports him in his grief. We learn later that Chu visit to the  hospital was to get a good health testimony for his marriage. 

Chu’s interest in children: on his jogging exercise Chu meets Liang Jin-Rong and her daughter Shan-Shan.   He finishes up by walking Shan Shan to school and providing lunchtime food to the children. A very funny scene shows Shan-Shan in class taking orders from a crowd of kids  for their lunch. It transpires that her mother and grandmother are very bad at cooking. 

Old man retires: The restaurant manager visits Chu to persuade him not to retire “ The restaurant needs your presence”. But Chu’s response: “Do I just stand in the kitchen until I rest in Peace, like Old Wen? “ and argue that good food is not appreciated anymore. “Fortunately, I do not plan wasting my whole life on this stuff.”  

Chu’s sexuality: Openly his friend Old Wen declares “you are as repressed as a turtle”. Sexual images can be interpreted in a cut from D2 making love to Chu handling a chicken and a very brief shot of Chu rather tense introducing a couple of two sticks in the mouth a fish.  If an interest in his body can be interpreted as a revival of sexuality, we can see that the scenes of massages and hot tubs appear towards the end of the film.

A major twist in the narrative provides, fun at the expense of Mrs. Liang and resolution  of the problem of care of the Father when the daughters leave home. Chu has always been very tolerant of Mrs. Liang constant chatter. At a formal family meal, after an excruciatingly embarrassing time and many drinks Chu announces his intention of selling the family house and marrying Liang Jin-Rong.  Everybody is shocked but Mrs. Liang is hysterical and collapses on the floor. Jin-Rong reassures the daughters that Chu will still love them. 

Chu’s New Life: In the empty old  house, D2 has prepared as expertly as her father a meal.  D1 and D2 cannot make it and  Jin-Rong is heavily pregnant in the new house. 

The point I tried to make is that Chu’s character as an old man is extremely well drawn by Lee. His narrative is full of twists and turns irony and fun. It has not been easy to disentangle all the characteristics of Chu as a sensitive laconic old Chef. The expertise in his profession, his unconditional love for his daughters, his secret love, the effect of his friend’s death on his decision to retire. To make the puzzle complete,  a similar analysis of the other characters may reveal a detailed and sensitive film that need more than one viewing. 

The film may stand as a moral tale about how in old age men need a young woman, but this is another story . 

Posted in Ageing, Ageism, Ang Lee, care, family, Film Analysis, food, grief, intergenerational relationships, love, murder, women's friendships | Tagged | Leave a comment