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
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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.

Posted in Ageing, alzeihmer, alzheimer, family, film making, FILM RECEPTION, intergenerational relationships, three generations of women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment