Death of Wife: Tokyo Story.

“Critics have frequently observed that Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo monogatari (Tokyo Story, 1953) was inspired by Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). David Bordwell sees Ozu as “recasting” the American film – borrowing from it, adapting it – and briefly mentions that there are similarities in story, theme, and plot structure. Indeed, these similarities are striking.”*

I feel that that there is a crucial difference between the two films. In MWFT the couple are separated for most of the film and Death is understated.  In TS  separation of the couple by death is overtly present throughout.  

THE OLD COUPLE : Quoting from my earlier post: In TS the characteristics of an ageing couple  are subtly exposed and recognised. Apart from being separated for one night the couple are seen together throughout. They seem to act in unison and share thoughts and impressions. Visually they are always in the same frame, sitting in a diagonal across the screen or in close ups facing the camera. When walking she follows him. ….. Ozu concentrates on details: losing objects and finding them again, forgetting the umbrella behind more than once, the dizzy spells, the remarks about change, the alienation from their adult children and young people at a holiday resort, the desire to go back home, the thank yous for being looked after in spite of being so busy.  All are recognisable common experiences of an old couple anywhere. 

The old couple have a son (doctor), daughter (hairdressing salon owner)  and daughter-in-law (widow of the son who died in the war) who live in Tokyo. A younger son lives in Osaka and a younger daughter lives with her parents. (I will use their family status throughout. ) 

Mother and Father prepare to visit their children in Tokyo. Apart from the teenager grandson, they are received with respect, warmth and love. However, both son and daughter find it difficult to accommodate their own busy lives with their parents and ask the widow to take them for a tour of Tokyo. They then organise for the parents to spend some time in a hot water spa. 

This experience turns out to be painfully uncomfortable. These sequences show the couple suffering in unison in an environment of noisy young people on holiday. An incident during their walk on the sea front foreshadows the future. After having contemplated the sea, sitting on the sea wall, they stand up but Mother find it difficulty standing up. They brush the incident away and decide to go back to Tokyo where they are not well received by their son and daughter.  Mother spends the night with her daughter-in-law. Father goes in search of old friends with whom he spends the night recollecting the good old time and drinking.

 It is in the sequences where the couple are away from each other that differences between them are highlighted.   We learn that the father was a heavy drinker. The death of his son in the war is only touched on. In contrast, there is a warm and close contact between the mother and the widow.   

Mother urges her daughter-in-law to forget her husband and get married again. 

The death of Mother is signposted again after the incident at the seaside. At the station on the way home she declares to her son and daughter:  Now that we have seen us here there is no need for you to come to see us – even if something happens to one of us.

The train journey is interrupted in Osaka (home of the younger son) by Mother being unwell and needing medical help. We see the couple together.   She swallows some medicine.  They comment on their visit to the children. (Ozu uses again the techniques described above. They convey the togetherness of the couple and address the viewers.) They agree that there is a distance between them and the children: how children never come up to their parents’ expectations, how when they get married they become different persons. But the couple articulate:  “Let us be happy that they are better than most – are better than average.“ 

Back at home, the couple are already separated. She lies unconscious with a bag of ice over her head. Husband and younger daughter cool her with fans. When the daughter goes to greet the rest of the family, the husband talks to his comatose wife and tells her that she will get better, that the children are coming. But for the viewer the shots of two boats crossing each other on the river and an insect fluttering around the lamp signal that she will not survive. The rest of the family arrive and after the visit of the doctor, the son takes the daughter and father aside and declares that it is not good news. Father asks if the visit to Tokyo exhausted her. Daughter “She was so lively in Tokyo”. Father looks at her. “It might have caused it – So what is it then?”  

Son: “She may not live till tomorrow morning….”

 Father ” I see she is not going to live.” Father remains impassive. “So… she is not going to live…..” Pensive : “So this is the end?….  Then Keizo won’t be in time, will he?”

We see him next on the terrace after the death of his wife when he is called and told that Keizo has arrived. Very detached : “It was such a beautiful dawn. It’s going to be another hot day today,” he says.  The family is around Mother who has a white cloth over her face.  

The family meal: recollections by everybody. Father  talks briefly of an event when Mother was in her forties but Daughter intervenes and after telling him not to drink too much lectures him.  You have to take good care of yourself now, Father, and enjoy a long life.  He leaves the table. We do not know what he thinks but when he comes back drying his hands  our first thought is that he went to the toilet, but his composed talk and profuse thanks to everybody may show that he would like to be left on his own: It’s all over now.   The children organise their departures and ask the widowed daughter-in-law to stay on. 

NEXT day the father is out on the terrace looking after the plants. The widow after clearing the house comes to say good bye.  Their conversation is very touching as the father thanks her for having looked after his wife showing care and love.  Father urges her to forget her dead husband and find a partner.   

The following is an account of the feelings experienced by the widow that gives us an insight into the complex changes in grief processes. 

 Father: You should get remarried if you meet the right man.  Just forget about Shoji . It pains me to see you living like this.  

Widow:  No its not like that 

Father:(about his wife)  She said she’d never met a nicer woman than you. 

Widow:  Im sure she was overestimating me 

Father: She certainly wasn’t 

Widow: I’m not the nice woman she thought I was. It embarrasses me that you should think of me like that.Really I can be quite selfish. I’m not always thinking of your late son. Though may think I am.

Father: You should just forget him.  

Widow: Often there are days when I don’t think of him at all. Sometimes I feel I can’t go on like this forever. I think often I lay awake at night wondering. Days pass and nothing  happens and I wonder what will become of me if I remain alone . Days pass and nothing happens and I feel so alone. In my heart I seem tobe waiting for something. I am just being selfish .

Father: No you’re not 

Widow: Yes I am . But I couldn’t say this to mother. 

Father:  That’s all right. You truly are a good woman. An honest woman . 

Widow: Not at all. 

The father gets up and opens a box containing the  watch of his deceased wife and offers it to the widow. 

It is rare to read this aspect of Tokyo Story in film reviews and yet the loss of a partner in a long relationship is a common dramatic experience of old people. 


Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, classic, classic film, critics, death, family, Film Analysis, FILM RECEPTION, grief, intergenerational relationships, old couple separation | Tagged | Leave a comment


June. Already ten weeks in lockdown and the stress of the pandemic is starting to bite. Forced to change my activities and interests. My social life, film blog and film research neglected are replaced by housekeeping chores and occasional Zoom meetings. But I keep thinking that my situation as a woman aged 85 is not too bad compared to old women who are on their own with no companion and no beautiful garden to breathe in. The force separation of couples has become common place in these last months, as partners are not allowed to be together in illness and death.

I am unable to engage in extensive research. I will give myself the luxury of blogging about the treatment of old couples in the films I have studied since 2009.

There are two aspects of ageing that I would like to investigate in Leo MacCarey’s film Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). Forced separation of the couple and false memories.
I had remarked in my previous blogs that the theme of old people forced to separate was not commented on by reviewers in spite of being the main theme of the film. Also Leo McCarey’s last 1min shot of Lucy on the train platform on her own is one of the most emotionally devastating film images. It would make a stone cry. (Orson Welles.)

Why do the couple have to separate? It is the Great Depression and Bark has not worked for a while. The mortgage has not been paid, the house is being repossessed. Bark and Lucy call their children to help them. The rich couple who could afford to take them in ask for some time before hosting them. One of their daughters lives in California, the other has no space or financial means to look after the old couple. It is decided that Lucy would stay with her son, daughter-in-law and teenage daughter and Bark with his impoverished daughter. As the time goes by, the rich daughter changes her mind and tensions arise in the two guest households. Bark is being sent to California for his health while the daughter-in-law investigates care homes for Lucy.

The heartbreak of the couple’s separation is expressed powerfully in the phone call sequence. In a comedy of embarrassment Lucy shouts her intimate love and concern for her husband to the bridge students of her daughter-in-law. Her back is turned to the students and us the audience. It is a powerful sequence that forces us to think about the couples’ situation.

In the last 20 mins of the film before separating the couple decides to be together rather than with their children.They relive their past and reassess it “happiness spread thin over the whole lifetime”. Bark criticises himself. Lucy reassures him. Lucy regains her independence and is more comfortable than Bark with strangers. They visit the hotel of their honeymoon. Everybody is kind and respectful.
see blog

This self assurance and acceptance of the inevitable makes the last scene of separation on the station platform between the loving couple so unbearably sad. :”In case I don’t see you again…” says Bark. The pain of separation and mutual declaration of love feel like the final goodbye of death. The fact that Bark goes to sunnier climes may have different connotations for viewers. But the last shot that lasts 1 min. when the train sets off and Lucy is left on her own on the platform is devastating. She has never shown her distress about the future throughout the film but in her words in her letter read to Bark ‘Oh Bark that home for the aged is so dreary and dismal’.

The other strain I would like to highlight is the phenomena of false memories in old age. I have not come across writings about this subject in ageing literature. The couple relive their honeymoon in New York but while the moods described must have been accurate, they differed in time, dates and other details .

One wonders if the song I remembering it well written by F. Loewe and A. J. Lerner 1937  for the film Gigi and sung by Maurice Chevalier was  not inspired by   “Make way for Tomorrow”.

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March 1st. 2020

I was looking for a film to present to our Secular Jewish group and I suddenly thought of EPILOGUE  dir: Amir Manor shown at the BFI festival in 2012 that had impressed me. Amour and Quartet also featured at the festival the same year and I put Epilogue (also titled Hayuta Ve Berl) on hold until the dvd with English subtitles was released.  Sporadically during these years I checked online for the dvd with English subtitles but I realised that this search was pointless and consulted French sites. Yes a dvd of the film with French subtitled exists. 

While waiting for the delivery I looked for reviews of the film on English sites…. Listed on Rotten Tomatoes  but not one review reference. No presence on metacritic. My daily paper The Guardian? no review. Ebert? could not trace one.   IMDB?  quotes 13 wins and 6 nominations for director or both actors. In particular  Tokyo FILMeX Grand Prize: the directorial debut film deals with the tragic issues of old people as well as the collapse of the 20th Century ideology. 

The Israel-Catalog entry is also accurate :
( But this site displays two banners in big red script NO LONGER AVAILABLE .

22nd. March

The coronavirus crisis has hit us and at 85 years old we are completely isolated. Life is upside down and films less interesting. But I must come back to Epilogue. I realise how this film touched me deeply and personally. It touched me on two different levels: my thoughts about Israel and my feelings about the old couple relationship. 

Although I am not of the generation of Israeli ideological founders  I arrived in Israel in the 1958 from Beirut via France, and England. I was full of socialist illusions soon to be destroyed by the racism I experienced working as a nurse. I came across deep racist attitudes towards Palestinians (workers in the hospital and patients) but also to a lesser degree towards Arab Jews. I did not settle in Israel and remained appalled by its racism. 

With effective mise-en-scene, editing and sound, this film reveals the situation of the old couple Hayuta and Berl in a changed world. They are not Holocaust survivors. They arrived in Israel with socialist ideals and in their 80s find themselves poor, isolated, humiliated. 

The film takes place over one day and the title sequences show their flat situated on the fifth storey of a nearly abandoned building. The camera follows Berl who goes down painfully to get his post. Bare electric wires and connection boxes in the open are visible across the walls. Newspapers litter the stairs. In the meantime Hayuta is under the shower passively leaning, against the wall exhausted. We only see one tenant who complains about Israel’s left wing paper: Ha’Aretz. 

The first sequence demonstrates the humiliating treatment of old people who need to prove that they deserve social help. (No different from the situation in England now and Loach’s realist genre). The long and sometimes absurd examination infuriates Berl who finds the examination demeaning.  Hayuta is passive, resigned.  She sits silent, but gives a hand to Berl when he needs it. 

When they look for some money to spend we are shown two containers under the bed.  One has only a few coins in. The other  Jewish National Fund  blue tin – present in many Jewish households, symbolic of hopes surrounding the foundation of Israel. I could not but remember the report in Ha’aretz (Nov 2006) about the treatment of Holocaust survivors and how in their poverty they had to get food rejects in the dustbins.  ‘it is better today to be a Holocaust survivor in the United States or France, not to mention Germany, than to be one in Israel’.

 The relationship between the old couple is painfully realistic. The great actors Rivka Our and Yosef Carmon  are seen as loving but with different attitudes to their predicament. Isolated, their only son lives in NewYork, and with little available money they seem to have no support. Berl hangs on to his socialist ideals. He has fallen out with his son, but Hayuta wishes their relationship was warmer. It is left for us to wonder about the father/son differences. 

Alternate sequences filmed in the flat and in town follow the couple during one day. Each sequence exposes an aspect of their personality. Each one exposes years of experiences and life together. Each one exposes an Israel that they feel has betrayed their dreams.    

Hayuta needs to go out. Can’t it wait another day? says Berl? It is later that we realise that the  “it” is their resolve to commit suicide.

Berl tries to repair their dilapidated flat with no success. He phones pest control. He damages the electrical circuits.  He goes to visit an unconscious friend in hospital.  The nurse  seems uninterested in her patient. He tries to sell his collection of socialist books but finds that the bookseller is not interested in these authors. Back home he canvases people on the phone to try and organise a socialist meeting for mutual help. He is not understood. 

There is a funny episode where Berl needs to rent smart clothes for him and Hayuta in a second hand shop with the help of a gay vendor. 

In the meantime Hayuta goes to the chemist. In a painful scene we see her try to purchase some medication but she has not enough money to pay for the diabetic drug and goes out with a strong sleep-inducing drug only. The young pharmacist understands the situation and kindly gives her the diabetic medication.  She goes to the cinema to see Indiana Jones where she falls asleep.   She walks the dark streets of the town.  A man accosts her. He is looking for his partner and calls her name.  She finds some food in a dump.  She phones her son for news of his family, hides her tears and makes her way home. 

Two thirds into the film the loving couple confront each other. There follows a cruel marital row. Hyata explodes in response to Berl’s fantasy – his dream of a socialist Israel. . Hayuta: I have tried to tell you this for these 3 years …we are not useful to anybody …tell me that you can look after me…. Berl:you are mad….. you are dead I cannot take anymore

She falls in a diabetic coma. In a touching scene he revives her and in the light of candles and the heat of burning books they dress in the rented clothes, cuddle and dance and sing. It is their wedding anniversary. 

An extreme close up of their faces in the dark. They reassure each other. 

Berl: It should not have ended in this way. We were mistaken

Hayuta: We were true to ourselves. We organised a new society and they sold it. We did what we could .

She assures him that their son has forgiven him. The shot is an extreme closeup and Berl hands Hayuta a packet.  Here again we are left trying to decipher a message that has not been obvious. But Hayuta explains. She does not want to die, humiliated, in hospital, examined by the social security if I am ill…cared for by a Philippin nurse. …I do not want to stay here, I feel foreign. I want this night to last forever.  He replies I do not want to stay here without you. 

The closing scenes show them leaving the house. They stop at a food stall that is shutting for the night. The last   last contact is with a young man who serves them without charging them. The last shot is of the second-hand clothes shop and the owner hanging their borrowed clothes. 

I do not think I did give justice to this understated film with many subtle symbols about an old couple.  I found the film extremely delicate and complex in its treatment of an old couple relationship in a changing world.  I have not in my concentration on ‘the old woman in film’ given any attention to old couples representation. Tokyo Story and Make Way for Tomorrwow are the two classics that come to mind.

I am very surprised that the few reviews in English do not mention  the political background of the film. There are a few French reviews that do and consider the political background. I was lucky to find the dvd. 

Won Awards of the Israeli Film Academy 2012 = Won Bratislava International Film Festival 2012 = Won Gijón International Film Festival 2012=Won Thessaloniki Film Festival 2012=Won Tokyo FILMeX 2012

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, Ageism, critics, FILM RECEPTION, israel, marital disagreement | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

QUARTET (2012)

It was a pleasure to meet again with EON members (Ealing Over 60 Network) to watch a film together. I chose Quartet (2012) for this session. There were 21 people. As usual male presence was of 3 only. 

Personally I found Quartet one of the best film about ageing.

We had some technical problems and this gave me the opportunity to express my feelings about reviewers who tend to only write about the narrative of a film neglegting all other cinematographic components that make a film.  

The response of this audience was interesting. At the extrême the réaction was : the only good thing about this film was the music. At the other extreme one woman declared that she was deeply moved, nearly in tears. The film gave a group of  old people the opportunity to talk about ageing.  

Notes of the discussion taken by a member of the group:

Attendance: 17 women, 3 men\ Many had already seen the film before but said that they enjoyed it much more this time: 

  • I was more moved by it this time, 
  • I was touched by the affection between the two men (Billy C and Tom C) 
  • I saw this time that the basic plot is just a hook on which to hang a study on ageing, and I was looking more at the characters’ behaviours. 
  • Enjoyed it much more and identified with the different characters
  • I was annoyed by Billy Conolly’s scatological remarks the first-time round, to which another person said: that it was in character of the person as he had suffered a frontal lobe stroke which is known to take away inhibitions

Other comments: 

  • It was a thoughtful mix of people and a very emotional film
  • There are different aspects of dementia described here, my husband has dementia and I have checked all the aspects of it and where it affects the brain.
  • The only good thing about the film was the music, the characters are stereotypes
  • The place where it was filmed is beautiful
  • The film was modelled on two retiring homes for stage people
  • To be old in such a privileged situation and being looked after by black people
  • This home operates well because all the inmates have something in common, they are musicians.
  • Although it is a very good retiring home, one person felt that it still had a feel of an institution
  • It was noted that the quartet was formed by the only ones in the cast that are not professional musicians
  • Someone pointed out that they did not go out of the home, no trips out, no shopping… another replied that it was irrelevant, it is not part of the plot here, the film is not about that.
  • People were impressed by how Jean resolved the situation when Sissy tried to run away before the quartet sung, and that she probably drew on a past experience she had with Sissy and this is why it worked
  • Jean managed to calm the situation right down by saying: don’t worry, the boat doesn’t leave for another two weeks!
  • Although it is a very good retiring home, one person felt that it still had a feel of an institution
  • It was noted that the quartet was formed by the only ones in the cast that are not professional musicians
  • Someone pointed out that they did not go out of the home, no trips out, no shopping… another replied that it was irrelevant, it is not part of the plot here, the film is not about that.
  • People were impressed by how Jean resolved the situation when Sissy tried to run away before the quartet sung, and that she probably drew on a past experience she had with Sissy and this is why it worked
  • Jean managed to calm the situation right down by saying: don’t worry, the boat doesn’t leave for another two weeks!
  • The clarinettist in the film lives in Ealing: Colin Bradbury
Posted in Ageing, alzheimer, audience responses, care homes, critics, FILM RECEPTION, love | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shoplifters (2018) – Palme d’Or Cannes – Director Kore-eda

I did not grasp all the richness of this film on my first viewing in the cinema. As a rule I make a point of not reading the reviews or synopsis before seeing a film. What struck me in the first instance is the humanist approach to deprived people and the cinematography.  Kore-Eda does not judge the shoplifters  and the cinematography is very complex.

The colours match the mood of the images: Vibrant colours in the supermarket and dark ones in the house,  brilliant orange and gold on the young boy reading quietly and washed up blue grey of the last hours of the grandmother.   The takes are very studied: long shots outside the house, closeups of faces in emotional personal sequences, peeping shots with dark panels on each side of the screen, and very occasional 4th wall shots that involve the viewer.  

But I would like here to focus on the complex representation of the old woman as grandmother.   

In Make way for Tomorrow and In Tokyo Story there are grandmother and grandchild relationships. In the first film this is important in the narrative, but  in the second it is incidental. Recently there have been two films with grandmothers as main characters: Poetry (2019) and The Farewell (2019). In Poetry the old woman looks after her teenage grandson to help her daughter. In The Farewell it is the thought of the death of the grandmother that urges the  extended – across countries- family to get together.   

I have not seen all of Kore-Eda’s films but the old woman is present in a few of them: in After Life, there are two old women. One is rather confused and mixes her memories of childhood in time and place. The other is serene and just enjoys nature.  In Still Walking the grandmother, bitter with grief over her son’s death has next to no relationship with her grandchildren or indeed her husband. She is seen mainly as provider of delicious old fashioned home cooking and reminiscences of the good old days.  In After the Storm, the grandmother has just lost a gambler husband. She has a rich social life but   wishes she had a more comfortable home. Her daughter and grandchildren visit her regularly. Her son is wasting his life gambling and he neglects his son who admires his grandmother for her intelligence. It is in the grandmother’s home and through her intervention (and the storm’s) that he comes to terms with his divorce and decides to reform. 

In Shoplifters the role of grandmother is explored to the full. The family is not a conventional blood-related one but a group of deprived people who live illegally from the old woman’s pension and  by stealing. In this group made up of a couple (Osamu and Nobuyo), a young woman Aiki, and two abducted children Shota (little boy),  and Yuri ( abducted because she is mistreated by her mother), the older woman is called throughout Grandmother. How does Kore-eda represent the grandmother? She is the head of the made-up family and dies after the happiest family scene at the seaside. After her death her family is dismantled.  She is present in many scenes where she is seen as a complex individual. In this group who eat together often she is not the cook but the head of the family. 

As the provider she finances the family with her pension but also with an allowance given to her by the son of the second wife of her father. After her death the family finds her savings… 

As the keeper of the home she arranges to receive the official representative (social worker or estate agent?) in a very cramped uncomfortable

As the head of the family she criticises the adult male Osamu for not earning a living for the family and is even rude to him. But she makes sure that he takes a flask to work. She also offers him a box of sweet beans when she returns from an outing and he warns her of the danger of slipping on the ice.  

Aiki is her favourite and is not expected to contribute to the household. Grandmother is tolerant of Aiki’s job in a peepshow. There is a certain feeling of complicity and warmth between Aiki and Grandmother. You know everything , don’t you Grandma? This is conveyed mainly in the acting. 

The three women and Yuri form a cohesive women group in the shop where they steal outfits for Yuri. With Yuri, she is the traditional image of grandmotherhood. She blows on hot food for her. She has a traditional remedy for bed wetting and teaches the child how to apologise. She tends to the child’s burns and makes the pain disappear. 

As friend to Nobuyo she discusses with her the advantages of a made up family compared to a  blood related one. At the beach she confides in her.  When the rest of  the family is having noisy fun in the water, she declares that she fears the situation cannot last. In her last hours she tell her how beautiful she is.  

From time to time we see her in the conventional image, sitting on the floor mending children’s clothes but she is also partial to a bit of gambling on the machines.    Over a drink in the evening she recollects her past. 

One night Uri wakes up the household to declare that she has lost a tooth. The whole family finds that Grandmother died quietly in her sleep. 

Posted in Ageing, care, death, family, Film Analysis, food, grief, intergenerational relationships, love, motherhood, outsiders, sisters, three generations of women, tolerance, women's friendships | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment



Warm and equal relationships between old woman and adult daughter are very rare in the films I have written about.  Kore Eda in Still Walking (2008) portrays mother and daughter conversing and cooking together but the distance between them is obvious. The mother teaches the daughter how to cook traditionally while the daughter expresses easier ways of providing for the family. Also the daughter eyes up the house of her parents under the cover of needing to look after them. 

8 years later, with the same main actors  (Hiroshi Abe and Kirin Kiki)) in After the Storm Kore Eda establishes in less than 4mins (titles footage ) a warm and equal relationship between mother and daughter after the death of the gambling, irresponsible Father. While writing death announcements, they tease each other,  gossip and share criticisms and the rare good point of the dead man. The son, Ryota is also the but of criticism.  

Kore Eda in an interview declared that he writes about family dynamics and compares Still Walking with After the Storm as families getting together or splitting. Pressed about his relationship with his father he is very short. 

The film is made up of two parts of equal lengths but different content. The second part can be described as being about the family dynamic resulting from the separation of a man, Ryota, from his wife and child. With the help of his mother Ryota finally accepts the rupture and establishes a warm contact with his son. 

In the first hour of the film, however, we see Ryota working as the Private Detective who wrote a successful novel in his youth. He is divorced and misses his wife and son. He spies on them. He is an addicted gambler as was his father. In need of money to pay maintenance for his son, he blackmails his clients.

I would argue that After the Storm deals also in a covert way with tolerance of flawed characters. My attention to a hidden meaning in some images was the brief shot in the title sequences of the grandmother carrying a heavy mattress.  I searched the reviews for any comments about Ryota’s relationship with his younger, (also divorced with a child), colleague. Their physique is strikingly different.  Ryota is tall and lean and his colleague short and round. Ryota is anxious, misses his ex-wife and child and spies on them. He cannot fulfil his maintenance payments or his son’s wishes. His colleague utters words of wisdom about divorce and children’s behaviour when they grow up and gives him hope. He stands by and helps Ryota by lending him money to gamble with, researches the wife’s partner and comments on his friend’s attachment to his lost cat. 

We see Ryota searching his mother’s house for a valuable scroll but only finds an ink stone that he dismisses.  He cheats on his clients and extorts money from them. He even blackmails a young student who is having an affair with his teacher.  He is unable to fulfil his son’s desires. 

Ryota can be seen as a selfish, irresponsible gambling addict. At least one reviewer expresses this judgement on him. However his colleague’s attitude of patient acceptance of his friend modifies our attitude. He does not appear in the second half where we come back to family dynamics. In that  section of the film, Ryota establishes a warm relationship with his son, and accepts his divorce.  He finds that the ink stone he found in his mother’s flat is valuable.

The song over the credits also indicates that Ryota is going to change his life. 

Of course there are many other ways to write about this film. I found the presence of a character during half the footage who disappears in the second half too tempting not to investigate… 

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The Farewell

Of all the films featuring an old woman that I have seen and written about none has coincided with my experiences as much as this film.
I saw it in my local cinema on a Saturday at 18h with only a handful of other viewers.

In my 84th years, grand-mother and great-grandmother, after years of fitting in the English way of life, raising a family and working for the National Health, this film awakened in me the feeling of being in exile.

There was no feeling of identification with the characters but rather a recognition at different levels:
I need to wait for the dvd release before I can study the film in detail but I will pick up the main themes that struck me.

1- the tradition of the family not to inform a sick member of the seriousness of their illness. In my experience, this was the rule and in consultations doctors always managed to send the patient out of the room to talk to the relative.

2- the sister looking after her older sister. My aunt came all the way from Argentina to look after her older brother (my father ) who suffered from Alzheimer.

3- the cultural and language gulf between the families and second generation who emigrated from China to the USA or Japan. In my case the emigration was from Lebanon to France, England, New Zealand and the USA.

This film explores with depth and humour, exile, ageing, family, customs and the important grandmother/grandaughter relationship.

It has a wonderful detached way of examining the state of dissemination of the family without sentimentality.

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Still Walking (2008) 

As with some family reunions, my second viewing of Still Walking was quite painful. I saw it at home with a cousin with whom I had shared family reunions in my youth. Her general comment was: there is a certain coldness between parents and children and between the old couple themselves,  but maybe that’s what it is like in Japanese families. 

When I saw Still Walking at the NFT I was overwhelmed by the familiarity of the atmosphere of a family gathering. I loved the mother and daughter talking cooking together and gossiping, with the mother’s familiar repeated recollections, the father’s grumpiness and detachment, the children running all over the place. I appreciated the efforts of the daughter to avoid conflicts and her interest in moving in with her parents ‘to look after them’ and of the son-in-law trying to ingratiate himself but forgetting to do what he promised. I recognised the new daughter-in-law and her child trying hard but failing to fit in. I somehow  did not completely appreciate the unresolved grief of the loss of the elder son that the reunion was commemorating. 

The story of the death of the elder child while saving a friend,  the bitterness of the father, the revenge of the mother against the rescued man was a surprise. At the Q and A session with Kore Eda this subject was not raised but he mentioned the fact that for the dialogue he only used actual sentences that were used by the cast.

On second viewing I found the portrayal of the grieving old couple quite unacceptable, and dare I say, ageist. I found their resentful attitude and even nastiness towards the rescued man, depicted as an inadequate figure of fun, exaggerated. They both express openly and viciously their hatred. In fact the old couple appear in the whole film as selfish and unpleasant… 

The couple express openly throughout the film prejudices on marriage, work ethic and careers. 

What may have escaped me is the class and generational elements of the families interactions. The parents are well off and the father is very proud of his status as a doctor. He is treated with respect by his neighbours. The mother sticks with her traditional ideas about families, choice of a partner and when to have children. There is a certain distance between the couple.  (The grandmother does not hesitate to recall her husband’s affair in front of everybody.)

The daughter and her  family appear as secondary in the story. She tries to smooth out the conflicts in conversation. Her keenness to move in with her parents reveals a financial need. This is reinforced by the characterisation of the son-in-law as ineffectual. He is asked to do the menial job of mending some tiles in the bathroom but forgets to do so. 

It is when the sister and family leave that the father and mother open up and reveal the cruelty of their yearly invitation. The mother even expresses the wish to carry on punishing the rescued unfortunate man. Having shown no interest in his grandchildren, the father shows some hope in the adopted son when the child shows curiosity in the array of  medicines lining the office of the retired doctor. 

The surviving son, Ryota, his wife and adopted child   represent the new generation. Ryota a jobless art restorer feels strongly the disapproval of his father, in particular because he is unemployed at the moment. But he has the decency of criticising his father for the language he uses to describe the low class survivor. 

The gift of a Kimono by the mother to her daughter-in-law seems to soften her character but her immediate advice that it would be better if she did not have another child…. somehow does not.     

Although the goodbyes feel warm enough,  the young couple decide not to spend the night again in the family home. 

The last shots show Ryota, wife, young boy and younger daughter tending the family grave.  

I find it strange that no commentaries are made in the reviews on the representation of the grieving old couple in this film. The Q and A session with Kore Eda did not mention the traditional relationships and ways of behaving between parents and children in Japanese customs. Neither does the film offer any way to sympathise with the grieving grandparents. 

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POETRY (2010) -2-

Recently, a friend recommended Lucy Bolton’s chapter The Intertextual Stardom of Iris: Winslet, Dench, Murdoch, and Alzheimer’s Disease,Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures (2015).  This took me years back before I started my blog. Coming back to the film, I posted on August 24th 2011 : Iris and Cultural Ageism.

As an exercise, I asked myself what I remembered of the films with a dementia theme. From Iris the image of young Iris careering down a street on a bicycle was prominent. 

But from Away From Her 2016, it was a thought rather than an image that persisted. Knowing little about Dementias at the time I found it extraordinary that the newly diagnosed protagonist, was capable of foreseeing her future and insisted on being in control of it. 

I had been working on and off on Poetry (2010) and found it extremely difficult to follow the thread of the film’s narrative. I was overwhelmed by the youth gang rape, the school girl suicide, the fathers of the rapists and the collusion the school head in hiding the crime, and the grandmother’s efforts to contribute to the compensation. 

 I collapsed in unconsciousness and admitted to hospital with pneumonia. That night I had an extraordinary dream. I was viewing Poetry, in full colour and two parts. Part one was Mija in early dementia pursuing her needs and recollecting her youth, the gang rape, the cover up.  Part two was Mija’s confirmed Alzheimer’s diagnosis and her determination to fulfil her duties before committing suicide.  In my delirium a sentence kept appearing: you will only understand the film if you consider it as the story of an independent 66 year old woman recently diagnosed with Azlheimer’s. 

And indeed now recovered, I see Mija’s story as the story of a 66 years old woman, diagnosed as suffering from  Alzheimer disease.

I will not analyse scene by scene and sequence by sequence but will give an overall account of details that made sense to me.  

In the first half of the film we get to know Mija.  She is fiercely independent. She looks after her teenager grandson to help her divorced daughter who lives away. He is un unpleasant youth involved in the group rape of a school girl. She works as a carer/cleaner for a man disfigured by a stroke. Mija does not divulge to her daughter that she has been referred to Seoul to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimers. She does not divulge to her daughter the involvement of her son Wook in the gang rape and the following suicide of the school girl. She insists on being admitted to the poetry class because she was ‘good at poetry in her youth’. We see her rummage in her bag to look for her purse that she holds in her hand and find it difficult to find the last word of sentences. She steals the photo of Agnes the school girl at the funeral service.  She visits  the school and peeps into the lab where the rapes took place.  

 At  around 1hour we and Mija have the definite diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We have seen her rummage in her bag to look for her purse that she holds in her hand and find it difficult to find the last word of a sentence. But in the next sequences we have now two modes of Mija’s behaviour. On the one hand she escapes into the beautiful poetic world and on the other she has to confront the practicalities of dealing with the responsibilities of her grandson’s crime. 

Thus while waiting for one of the fathers of the  young rapists to ask him for a loan to pay for her part of compensation she sings;

 Time passes and flowers fade

Wet lipstick on the wine glass

With my yearning for you

 Ive been grabbing onto the rope I had to release 

but now is the time to let go. 

you may have forgotten

my name by now

But I crudely raise 

A wine glass again because of you 

Now I wanna take off my dress of attachment 

And drink a glass of oblivion

During the poetry session while women speak of their experiences and feelings as adults, she reverts to her very early childhood. A trip to the countryside leads her to a main road, a bridge and the wide river. She considers the depth of the river, looks at her hat fall down into it and as the raindrops fall onto her poetry booklet she gets back all wet onto the bus and returns to her disabled employer. 

The following sequence where she gives him a viagra tablet and carries out a full sexual act is the source of many disagreements amongst people I know. Personally I choose to think that having contemplated death she decides to repair her unkind outburst at his earlier request. 

She next is persuaded by the fathers of the rapists and the school director to influence “woman to woman”  the mother of the young victim into accepting the compensation. She travels to her village. But on the way she gets distracted by nature, the birdsong and the ripe apricots falling on the ground. She converse with the mother and does not approach the subject of compensation. 

  the apricot throws itself to the ground

it is crushed and trampled for its next life 

blessed to walk in such beauty 

As she leaves the mother we see her realise that she did not do what she was supposed to do.  

The next sequence is a poetry conference.The policeman who declaimed rather rude poems in class is defended by one of the women who says that he is a good policeman and fights against corruption. 

Finally she breaks down under the stress of her two worlds. She sits down on the ground outside the hall and sobs The policeman: Why are you crying big sister, is something wrong? is it about poetry because you can’t write any? He sits next to her. 

This is another example of cuts where the viewer is left to interpret. Cut to her untidy flat. She puts the photo of the young school girl on the table and looks at her.

She prepares the meal. Wook sits at the table and looks at the picture. Give me something to eat I am hungry. He turns the tele on. She is on the balcony looking at the children playing. This time Wook appears as a young child happy playing with the children. This is probably the time of her decision. (Children playing at the bottom of Mija’s flat is a recurring image) .

She goes to tell the fathers that she has not got the money but she is pressurised by the men and the presence of the the mother. 

Next sequence is a family scene of the disabled man and a her demand for money. 

Please give me five million won. I beg you don’t ask why. Why should I give you money without a reason? Is this blackmail? 

it does not matter what you think. I won’t make any excuses. 

Again this is a scene where interpretations by viewers differ about Mija’s intentions. Personally I do not think that she was blackmailing him. She saw this as her duty to pay her due. 

The next sequences are the most subtle and heartbreaking. Mija grabs her grandson from the playing arcade, takes him for a meal, suggests he should have his hair cut, cuts and cleans his toe nails, comments on the way he washes, “you should always keep your body clean.” Cut to Mija and Wook playing badminton at the bottom of the flats. A car stops and the policeman looks at the game, suggests how to play while his aid guides Wook to the car and drives away. The game carries on between Mija and the policeman. 

At the table Mija writes. Cut to the poetry class where the teacher reads the poem Agnes Song sent by Mija.  

 Cut to Mija’s daughter entering the neat empty flat.  

At the Poetry class, the poem Agnes Song is read first with the images of children playing, then a travelling shot  of Agnes walking to school, and Mija’s voice slowly replaced by the young schoolgirl’s voice. It is time to say goodbye …. and slowly  Agnes turns round and looks into the camera. 

I am fascinated by the way this film portrays an older woman subjected to the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. On a background of social corruption and male power she appears in control and decides to take a major decision. Her end is not obviously exposed but it is left for the viewer to imagine.

Finally I found the balance between escape into poetry and need to confront reality a very interesting view of the beginnings of Alzheimer disease. 


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POETRY (2010)

POETRY (2010)

How did I miss this great film featuring a 66 years old grandmother? Directed by Lee Chang-dong,  it won the 2010 Cannes Best Screenplay Award and many more. 

I discovered it recently while searching for films that have mentions of dementia.  Available on DVD with Italian subtitles, I found it with English subtitles on YOU TUBE and viewed it more than once. 

It is the sort of film like “Eternity and a Day”  that defies the usual expression: “this film is about” in reviews that so often misrepresent films. It is a film  that uses all the capacities of film making from the script to the screen. 

A film that marries language and images, it is a rare film that explores all aspects of the life on an old woman. It suggests rather than declares and leaves the viewer space for thought and maybe interpretation. 

 It deserves a full analysis. I have no extended spare time to engage in this exercise at the moment. I would like however to note how male dominated is the background of the life of this old woman and how resilient she proves to be.  

I would appreciate any information on writing in English or French about this film that my readers can refer to me.

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My Afternoons with Margueritte (2010) take 2

Brent U3A film group session. We were 5 women and 2 men.  

None of the group attending had seen the film when I showed it in 2011.

In my post  then I concentrated on the representation of the old woman and the ageist/sexist attitude of critics, in particular Bradshaw in the Guardian. 

This new group led by another member of the Brent U3A concentrates on old age generally.

 5 women and two men attended the session.  They all liked the film and an interesting discussion ensued. I realised then how child neglect and mother inadequacy, violence, alcoholism, grief, lover betrayal, ageing physical decline mix with good will and love in the two main characters. The realism of the rural cafe, and the lives of its staff and clients, was convincing. As in life feel good episodes tempered the hardness of the back story. I enjoyed the two representations of retirement homes. I did not find the film contrived, full of cliches as some reviewers maintained. Casadesus aged 97 and Depardieu give a great performance.

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This is an aide-memoir about Kore-eda wonderful film. I have to wait until a DVD is made available so I can relish again with more focus on the old married couple and their mixed feelings about their children and family visit . In the meantime Trevor Johnston – Sight and Sound February 2010.

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HANNAH (2018)

I missed seeing Hannah (2018) on the big screen. This film co-funded by Euroimages of the Council of Europe did not get a wide distribution in London but a friend alerted me.  She recommended the most depressing film about an old  woman she had ever seen and wanted to know what I thought. She knows that I do not like to be influenced by being told what the film is about so I had no preconceptions. 

My first impression was in response to the first image and sound. For the first time in films about old women I recognised my own ageing skin. Age spots are also called sun spots to make them more acceptable. In French they are sometimes referred to, more cruelly, as  ‘les fleurs de cimetière’. But I also noticed the temporal vein that had me worried a few months ago. 

The opening close-up is of Charlotte Rampling making odd disturbing unnatural sounds. I interpreted this as a woman in deep distress, possibly demented and the next sequence as a session of psychological workshop for people needing to express their distress. I wondered why the face closeup     filled only half of the wide screen. This framing was common throughout the film.

As the film progressed I desisted from this interpretation as Rampling seemed to operate normally going to acting workshops, swimming, working as a cleaner and child minder, baking, using public transport. But I became more and more irritated by the greys, browns and different shades of cold blue of the settings, by Rampling’s cropped closeups appearing more often than not on the side of the screen with a dark area on the other half. The long sequences, the  brown vertical lines appearing regularly in some scenes, the stairs, the long sequences of waiting for the train? tube?, the multitude of stairs, children running, the dog not eating, all details of the mise-en-scene are designed to force you to make sense of a film that has no story. One is forced to interpret the signs and try and fit them in a non existing narrative. I felt insulted  by the scene – a too obvious image –  where she emasculates (is this the right word?) the lilies after being rejected by her son. The sequences about a beached dead whale and the walk to the dustbin in the back of buildings seem to be  cuts of  another film.   

I sought  help in the reviews. It seems that most of them picked out some of details in the film to support their own interpretations which are often contradictory. In so doing they construct a story by ignoring other significant sequences.  The late divulging of the reason for the husband’s incarceration in particular is left for viewers to imagine or ignore and the reviewers to be so divided in their assessments. 


This film deserves a serious study about film and interpretation. Rampling obtained many acting awards for this film but it seems that it is not possible to understand who she is. 

She is described by  English, American and French reviewers in many different ways : 

bleak portrait of an ageing house-cleaner in suburban Brussels who is struggling to cope with the fallout from her husband’s recent criminal conviction (it involves, we learn over the course of the film, child sexual abuse).

woman crumbling under duress after her husband is incarcerated

mutique, grise, confite de mal-être et de haine d’elle-même

Hannah’s face may tremble, but we sense more than a hint of steel underneath  

  Hannah imperceptibly deteriorates 

  frigid portrait of a woman in crisis

Isolation and extreme emotional anguish

Hannah’s face may tremble, but we sense more than a hint of steel underneath

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THE MOTHER (2003) revisited

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.

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. 

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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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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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
Posted in Ageing, family, FILM RECEPTION, love, sisters, women's friendships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

CARAMEL (2007)

Caramel 2018 

One of the EON friend (a woman with a Lebanese background)  suggested we viewed Labaki’s Caramel   as ‘feel good’ film for the end of year. 

Given my background (see post 2012 ) I was very surprised by the animated discussion. 

I had showed the film twice before (2012 and 2016) ) to different friends groups. The diverging reactions this time echoed the previous ones but were still more marked : “Depressing, Feminist – Funny, Boring”. While some people looked at the film as portraying women’s repressed life in Beirut, others saw it as a positive representation of women solidarity and friendship across faith cultures.  The discussion focused mainly on the young women. There were some comments about the representation of the dementing old woman. On the whole certain scenes were picked up and discussed but other significant ones  did not get any attention. 

 (see previous posts) 

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EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994) film genres…


My Father was the centre of the family, and everybody tried to please him. My Mother loves me and everything goes well. I have no conflict whith her, so that’s not dramatic. Ang Lee 

Why was I not offended by the portrayal of a stereotypically unpleasant old woman, mother and grandmother  in  Eat Drink Man Woman?  Why was I not unsettled by a man marrying a woman as young as his daughters?

Viewing the film with a group or reading reviews did not help. No comments addressed the subject or, more seriously the subject of ageing. 

How I would like to have the time to research and analyse this film frame by frame!…But on reflection only a few lines will do. It is Lee’s sense of fun, light touch, empathy and exceptional director’s skill in depicting ageing and family intergenerational differences that made the film so appealing.  With the stuff of classical family melodrama, its violent outbursts and high emotional explosions, Lee constructs a film difficult to categorise. IMDB tries the usual genres: comedy, drama, romance but none singly or as a group, will fit. There is a past emotional trauma, a religious conversion, a pregnant teenager, a lover’s betrayal, the death of a friend, the loss of a paid for new apartment, students’ abuse of a teacher, and  father/daughter conflict.  For me the scenes featuring the old woman were pure farce, a genre I am partial to.  The scene where the little girl takes orders for her mates’  school lunches is also hilarious. I find it impossible to be judgmental in this context. 

The film is the last of Ang Lee’s trilogy called  Father Knows Best – undoubtedly a man’s view point, but a very sensitive, fun and feel-good point of view…. It is constructed like a visual puzzle where small details are very significant and one needs to notice the clues that propel the narrative. The film deserves serious and time-consuming research and analysis that I will leave for the time being. 


Posted in Ageing, Ang Lee, classic film, fable, food, grief, love, melodrama, three generations of women, women's friendships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) at EON 

I mentioned in this blog that I would not concentrate any more on the representation of  old women in films but widen my interest and abandon the time-consuming film analysis approach. 


After being alerted to Ang Lee’s  Pushing Hands  (Cinema, Films, and Ageing, Posted on October 18, 2018) by a couple of EON members of the Ealing film club I decided to explore this director.  I viewed  Eat Drink Man Woman at home and was so delighted that I showed it to the EON (Ealing Over 60 Network)  film group meeting. 

The drama of widower Master Chef Chu and his daughters is treated in a sensitive and light hearted way. 

I will use the daughters’ identifiers Daughter 1 2 and 3 in order of seniority: Jia-Jen, a chemistry teacher converted to Christianity, Jia-Chien, an airline executive, and Jia-Ning, a student.   

What I found interesting is that of the 18 women and one man 8 of them had seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.  Some  also knew the director’s name of these famous films. One viewer only realised after the end of the film that  she had seen it before but appreciated it better. 

As usual people were keen to speak and at times the conversations were animated and impossible to record.  The first speaker said that the film was eminently unpredictable and this helped maintain her interest throughout. Later one woman said that “it is a good thing that there was not a happy ending”.  The laughs during viewing were many and indicated – to use the major food metaphor of the film – the sweet/sour feel of this family drama. 

Generally the exchanges were focused on the importance of food and the lives and relationships of the various members of the family. Their roles and relationships in the household and outside the home were examined. 

There was special stress on the fact that the ritual weekly family meal that the father spent a lot of time and expertise in preparing was considered as a chore by the daughters. Also that the father was treated with respect at work. The issue of his fate when the sisters left home was considered.

The audience was divided on assessing the daughter1 and her past. Was her affair with a fellow student who disappeared abroad a fantasy or a betrayal?   He appears again as a business colleague of Daughter2. He denies the affair and has only a vague recollection of Daughter1. Some thought that she was repressed and fantasised, others that you couldn’t trust a man and she was betrayed. 

 One person felt that the representation of  Daughter2 in spite of her liberated lifestyle was sexist.   

It was noted that the last scene where father and daughter2  en tete a tete share the ritual meal of the first scenes was an indication that the daughter was replicating the life of her father and doing what she always wanted to do: cooking in her father’s kitchen to get his approval.    

We only had a half an hour for the discussion and I have no doubt that there was further informal  talk over the ritual afternoon tea. 

I wondered why I did not mind the father marrying a woman his daughters’ age and the comic representation of mother and grandmother. But I found the whole film so subtle and kind that I just could not find fault with it. I must find time to study its complex structure and the use of metaphors as well as the treatment of old age, and men’s friendships.The last aspects was not hinted at during the short discussion. WHY? 




Posted in Ageing, audience responses, death, family, FILM RECEPTION, food, intergenerational relationships, melodrama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE WIFE (2017)

I saw The Wife  on the big screen with my partner and a friend (male) the three of us over 80 years old. 

It was remarkable that the three of us had to say something immediately at the end, even before getting up from our seats. The friend said: That was really bad film making, I said: She was amazing but I did not believe in her at all. I was surprised to hear my husband say: It is the first time that I laugh at a death. 

I skimmed the gushing reviews online to find an echo of our disparaging spontaneous responses.  

Rotten Tomatoes gave it 85%, and Metacritic 77% and some reviewers declared that Close deserved an Oscar . But it was comforting to find some critics whose opinions were the same as ours. 

Although the death of the main character was not considered as funny, some critics found a comic element in the film.  Bradshaw writes : In this hugely enjoyable dark comedy (The Guardian). Also Kermode:  In The Wife, an intriguing (if occasionally contrived) tragicomic drama…

Forgetting Close’s performance, the film was justly criticised for its poor cinematography. 

 Slant magazine’s Semerene : …As such, pairing an actress of Close’s caliber with such banal material makes everything that isn’t articulated by Close herself feel like soap-operatic redundancy.

Walter Adding San Francisco Chronicle : It would be wrong to say Closes’s performance in the Wife is wasted, but it certainly deserved a better movie. 

 And from a top French critic: F. Levesque  in Le devoir : Tout du long, Runge recourt à une grammaire cinématographique rudimentaire (« épurée », si l’on se sent charitable). Quoi qu’il en soit, ce qui promettait d’être une sombre méditation psychologique se meut en mélodrame appuyé….Une héroïne de la trempe de Joan méritait plus de panache.

I perceived the film as a bad family melodrama with its conflicts and classical violent outbursts. However I just could not understand why I found Close’s performance so impressive while not believing in her as a likely character.  It is the Scotsman’s Harkness  that gave me a clue: 

The pain and resilience that frequently flashes across her face may be redolent of someone resentful about having to suppress her own ambitions, but there’s an ambiguity there too, suggestive of someone more ruthlessly complicit in her own fate than she’s willing to let on. Here, Close instinctively understands the lingering power of inscrutability, so it’s too bad the film doesn’t. It spells things out that don’t need spelling out and, come the climax, turns the story soapy instead of matching the intelligence of its star.

It is this ambiguity that did not convince me. It is the power of Close’s acting the role of a very strong, capable woman behind a compliant wife that I just did not believe in throughout. It is not that this situation does not occur in real life but neither the narrative, nor the mise-en-scene support this situation. 

I know that the film deserves a closer analysis. After all Joan is a grandmother and the ‘old woman’ was the subject of my blog but the dvd is not yet released and  there are  many films featuring old women that I need to view.  More relevant my free time is shrinking at an alarming rate. 

However Geoffrey Macnab’s review in the Independent (27th september) corresponds exactly to my reading : The Wife demands a giant leap of faith from its audience.  It defies credibility that such a strong-willed figure would ever accept second best as meekly as the film implies

This difference of interpretation between most top reviewers and some viewers does raise the question of Stuart Hall’s dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings. A study of the reactions to this film of the general public would be extremely interesting.

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, audience responses, critics, family, Film Analysis, FILM RECEPTION, melodrama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

THE CLOCK (Christian Marclay) Tate Modern.

I have always argued that using film clips to support an argument is not acceptable to me as I think that a clip outside the context of the whole film may have different, even contradictory  meanings.

What can 24 hours of clips be like?

I delayed experiencing The Clock as I feared the long queues (see previous post). We chanced it yesterday at 11am. No queues and such an experience. We stayed two hours in very confortable sofas and would have stayed all day if hunger did not intervene. By then the queue started to form.

Two hours of clips. It was fascinating. I could not resist checking my watch from time to time to ground the experience. Apart from recognising some films, naming some actors, laughing, feeling the tensions of a narrative, I was transported in a world between fiction and reality, wanting to know more about the effect of this extraordinary exploration of the cinematic effects..

I have had no time to read about this wonderful use of film clips but would urge you to go to the Tate this autumn.


Posted in audience responses, film clips, FILM RECEPTION | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment


Cinema, Films and Ageing.

I have been running old women film groups for the last twenty years and blogging about the representation of the old woman in feature films for the last ten years.

My relationship with cinemas, film, film groups and writing needs to be adjusted to my circumstances but also to the general changes in the film world.

I seem to have less and less time to enjoy analysing films frame by frame and commenting on their ageism or lack of. I cannot grasp really what is happening to time. It races so quickly that I cannot write one sensible paragraph in what turns out to be a whole morning. On the other hand hours go so slowly when my brain is in rest mode.

My hearing and sight are deteriorating in spite of the advance technology of aids. Helas, in general, accessibility in cinemas is not ideal and subtitles sessions few and far between. What are called Art films – my favourite genre – are shown in tiny cinemas not bigger than my sitting room and less comfortable – not worth travelling in London polluted air.

The good news. There is more interest in old women in films :

Film groups and clubs in different forms and venues are flourishing.
Although ageism is still rife, one hears old women voices more often.

I cannot keep up with the generally released films featuring old actors. I run a monthly film session at EON : Ealing Over 60s Network. It is very well attended and not women only. I do declare that my speciality is the representation of old women in films and I try to document the very interesting discussions. It is the last session of the term that I decided to change the focus of this blog.

A member told me that the Ealing Classic Cinema Club had shown Ang Lee’s Pushing Hands. A non-British born like me she thought I would I would appreciate the portrayal of the conflict of two cultures that she found very accurate.

I saw the film and found it lacking in rigour. While the old man Tai Chi master’s role was well portrayed, the incidents of conflict were repetitive. I found the role of young woman writer somehow superficial and unsympathetic.

But this led me to Ang Lee’s following films: The Wedding Banquet and eat drink man woman that I Hope to blog about soon.

Posted in Ageing, audience responses, classic, family, food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


If you are interested in old age and cinema do not miss  Agnes Varda and JR film released this week in London.

Any comments from my part would be superfluous. The film speaks for itself.


Posted in Ageing, classic, documentary, intergenerational relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


18 members present

15 stayed for the discussion

The discussion was extremely interesting, nearly unanimous in praising the film. Only two people were very critical. One objected to the way the old man manipulated his son, the other was very bored. This surprised me because the 4 ex-members of the Brent U3A group who meet occasionally did not appreciate it at all, mainly for its male point of view and abundance of cinematic cliches. 

I did introduce the session by saying that while British reviewers were unanimous in liking the film, the French press were less enthusiastic. 

Below are the main recorded points of the discussion.

 – There is nothing that I can question about it. So accurately real, a documentary  

– about dying but life affirmingfilm amazing,  describing another culture. 

– I did not like the son being exploited by the father. 

– The relationship between the father exploiting the son

– It is the same in our culture. The wage earner bears all the weight of families 

– relationship father, son, grandfather, granddaughter,  death as a natural event, even joyous at the end. In our civilisation death is taboo.   I like the way it is confronted, – I loved the scene where the father is dying and next minute he is watching the space

– I was in India and in Varanasi – amazing place – very spiritual.  It  must be like Mecca for the Moslems. The family element – travel – it takes the audience in places they would not normally see

– the piles of wood, the hotel and its squalor –

– worthwhile film in every way

As usual the process of condensing a conversation into the main points of the discussion hide the emotional impact of the film.

 But what did the French object to ? asked some members.  I tried to quote some of the criticism of the direction, the pace of the narrative, the male point of view. The contributions carried on with enthusiasm

– I have been to India not as a tourist but with a family. It is just like that, you do get the milk from the cow. It gets the atmosphere of India 

– all the characters achieve peace 

– director self effacing- the fact that the old man was dying led the family to confront their situations and achieve what they wanted to achieve and think about life 

– I think that they do believe that they come back as an animal

– There were such interesting little details 

– very educational

– funny scenes communication on the phone   

– he wanted to die alone

– people often die when carers, relatives are out of the room

– more about difficulties with the son than about  death- eastern religions view of death he is going to be reborn

–  love interest:  this is what happens in old people homes

– the critic as a male view is bizarre because all films are from a male pt of view

– some scenes are too long

– it depicted Buddim practices, but there are many other religions in India. –the comic side was important 

-there was no serious exposition of the buddhist beliefs just as in the West there are no deep consideration of the christian religions 

-I thought  the sentence about being part of the ocean and the talks about reincarnation  were enough  


It is  the conclusion of Yves G’s review (in All Cine)  that explain to me both the likes and dislike of reviewers and audience:

Hotel Salvation is a sensitive film that one would have loved to love. But it is not exotic enough to disorientate, not American enough to discover its influences, not serious enough to be heartbreaking, not lighthearted enough to make us smile. On the bank of the Ganges as on the bank of the Styx, it remains between two shores in its hesitation to declare its point of view. 

 “Hotel Salvation” est un film délicat qu’on aurait aimé aimer. Mais il n’est pas assez exotique pour être dépaysant, pas assez américain pour qu’on y trouve ses marques, pas assez grave pour être déchirant, pas assez léger pour nous faire sourire. Au  Gange, comme on serait au bord du Styx, il reste entre deux rives à force d’hésiter sur son parti pris.


Posted in Ageing, audience responses, death, family, FILM RECEPTION, food, grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


This is not about the representation of an old woman in films but my personal  – as an old woman –  take on Hotel Salvation. 

I fail to see why this film has been so praised by   influential reviewers.   “In a class with Ozu’s Tokyo Story”  (Financial  Times) is quoted on the  DVD cover  and Mark Kermode, in BFi Player declares it “international treasure…. profound and insightful” . 

My first impression was one of boredom at the long takes on the road, the tourist’s views of the holy city of Varanasi and the Gange, and family dynamics seen from a very male point of view.  

Not knowing the Hindu beliefs of the after life I could not engage in the comic aspect around funeral customs, the manipulation of rules and regulations of Hotel Salvation where people go when they are about to die, the generational differences,  the marijuana highs, the phone calls to Rajiv from the office. There is also – obligatory for Indian films aimed at a Western audience – a visit to the Indian market, the rebellion against an arranged marriage, the scooter as symbol of female liberation and the importance of food and its preparation.     

While the treatment of the change in the father (Daya)/son (Rajiv) relationship from indifference to love and care is sensitive, it is drowned in a profusion of odd scenes full of cliches and easy laughs.  More importantly to me is the way the narrative is used to avoid confronting death and instead to concentrate on exotic funeral processions and long shots of cremation. 

What intrigued me is the only scene with some pathos is the scene when Daya is very ill and unconscious and  Rajiv cares for him with love and worry. This to me felt like a rehearsal for an event that has no main performance. The family calls thinking it is the last days for Daya. But he recovers from this episode, everybody goes home and the film carries on. 

However an old woman,( very good cook in a room infested with mice) who lost her husband some years ago is still at the hotel and provides comfort and  companionship. After her cremation Daya is ready to die. 

The family and the audience are spared the main character’s  last days and hours and his funeral procession started in tears finishes in good humour.  

I cannot understand how one reviewer compares the treatment of death in this film with Ozu’s masterful treatment of death in Tokyo Story. Are the reviewers aware of the three versions of the classic The Ballad of Narayama? where acceptance of death in old age is treated with depth and complexity? 

Is the film devised for a western audience? Is it funny for Indian people who are more familiar with generational differences in beliefs, life and customs ? 

It may be just that my point of view as an old woman with experience of many deaths of loved ones think that the subject deserves better. 




Posted in Ageing, Ageism, care, death, fable, family, FILM RECEPTION, grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War (2002)

Before I write about the EON (Ealing Over 60 network) film session Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War I would like to quote again the most outrageously sexist/ageist example in journalism that I have encountered in my extensive reading about films.  

At the end of one dire day of screenings, we critics once sat down to a horrible tear-jerker called Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War. Pauline Collins played a lonely widow who is pathetically grateful to be given a nice lunch in a restaurant. She simpered: ‘I haven’t had many afternoons like this’. We have’ remarked the Observer’s Philip French drily. (The Guardian 17/12/2009)

It’s hard to imagine anyone under 60 judging this worth a trip to the cinema (ch4 film reviews) its target audience is undemanding oldies (Sunday Times) .  An old biddy campaigns against cabbage in an old folk’s home (Time out)”, Pauline Collins plays a geriatric Shirley Valentine in this senile comedy that’s well past its prime. (BBC film review)

About 10 mins in, I all but lost the will to live.  When it was scheduled on TV in December of the same year : We’ll have enough turkey on our plates without having it on the telly as well. Most people reading this will not, for example have seen Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War, a horribly twee British comedy that came out this year starring Pauline Collins and John Alderton, about a feisty lady packed off to an old people’s home.

Yet in spite of the lack of reviews in Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic  and no more than 6 critics on IMDB, the numbers of users on these sites are not negligible.  I wrote in December 2009 about the film when we showed it at the Lexi cinema for the U3A in Brent.  I was surprised when preparing for showing it at the EON film afternoon this month that the blog was viewed 324 times since 2010.  From 4 viewings in 2011 to 81 in 2015, 62 in 2016, 42 in 2017.   There is no doubt that the film is being appreciated as the audience at the EON session proved. 

There were 16 people present at the screening this month. The discussion was very lively and covered many issues about the fate of old people when forced to go to a retirement home.  Personally I  enjoyed the film in spite of having seen it many times and written about it.  

The opening scenes are complex and keep the attention alert trying to organise the flashbacks and present situations. One viewer remarked that action took a long time to come, another that the comedy was farcical, slapstick. But the general feeling expressed was that the abuse of old people in retirement or care homes was painful to watch. 

Personal experiences were recounted.  The lack of reviews was explained by the reluctance of many people to face their own ageing,  film critics included. The sexist attitudes of the husband, son, manager of the home, TV interviewer were commented on as being realistic. The appalling treatment of the residents  was commented on and deplored. Some said that they would not be happy to depend on their children and one woman quoted the advice of a lawyer not to leave the house, while alive, to the children.  

One member mentioned visits to a home that she found a pleasant experience. Another visited a very good home in Canada.   Atul Gawande’s (in  Being Mortal) prescription for retirement homes was quoted. 

I note that in 2009 I wrote a blog titled The ‘otherness’ of the older woman where I observed that there was little identification by the old women viewers with the old woman on screen. There may now be a change.  After all the EON group members have to be over 60 and there was no doubt that they  felt the film was relevant to their own experiences. 

Posted in Ageing, Ageism, audience responses, care homes, critics, family, FILM RECEPTION | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment