I suddenly find myself in the recently built block of flats: the Hanei-Moglu buildings. My only memory of our stay on the ground floor is a mild earthquake nevertheless strong enough to send us all rushing to the  balcony at the back of the house.    It is when we moved to the third storey that the memories come flooding in.  My mother’s sister and family come to live opposite our flat.

…. MY OWN ROOM …I do not remember my  two brothers in Hanei-Moglu. Away in France preparing for the  Grandes Ecoles?  
My dream – a balcony around the whole flat with a view to the sea in the distance. On the other side, the main street with other houses and the grocer. My aunt on the ground floor orders her food needs from her balcony. A Bougainvillea flower climbs on the wall of the next door house.  
Visit to the Sook (Market) with  mother: I’ve never been in this  space before. A wonderful variety of people dressed in amazing different coloured  outfits. I choose a dull green material to fit my room from the curtains to the bed covers  and chair. Mum is not too happy but I insist that it is My Room . I have a record player next to the bed. Where did it come from? My first disc : Paul Robeson.  

GrandMother has her own room where she is served her meals by the maid.  (Father cannot tolerate the noise of her false teeth at the table).  She spends her days at the window observing people coming and going. She never fails to run after us with jackets when we prepare to go out. She gets to recognise the friends who come to pick me up for outings. When we have visitors, she rushes    on her flat shoes to offer some sweets to the guests. 

How old was I? (Some of my memories do come up but I cannot place them in time.

Youngest Brother’s  Barmitzvah 

A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a coming of age ceremony for Jewish boys when they reach the age of 13.   Nowadays it involves young girls as well but not then. I soon get tired of the felicitations to members of the family, the Hebrew readings and prayers but worst of all the complete blindness to my presence. The ceremony takes place in the big dining room. I disappear to my room where I discover a mountain of presents. I grab  a black box and turn its wheel  … It is camera…  All I can remember is that the family were upset by the loss of a film but I was not admonished in any way… 

The School: how old was I when I became the best sprinter of my class.   I boasted when I ran faster than the older sister of a friend of mine. I remember how the gym teacher told me laughingly. “Don’t get too proud, you will soon have your periods and you will get slower”. 

During a break in the garden a tall student tells  me of the NAKBA. It goes unregistered until years and years later in London. 

Visit of the school head:         Why did he visit? The two older brothers were already signed in to the Grandes Ecoles. A vague discussion about the daughter not  ‘as bright as the boys’ : Maybe a school of Pharmacy? I listened from behind the door. Was it traumatising? My father did not say anything but it became clear that I was not going to be sent to France like my brothers. 

Did I decide at that point that I would do what I want and decided to ignore the Geography and History subjects? My reasons to family and teachers were: They mean nothing to me as they are the Geography and History of France. I have nothing to do with France…  


(of course I could easily check my recollections with my brothers or cousins, but I have decided not to pretend objectivity.}

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After the war we moved to Beirut where my father got a job with a firm that imported French cars. His advantage was that he was fluent in French as well as Arabic.

Our house was an old building with a garden, a big water fountain in the middle and an empty chicken coop. I can smell the jasmine across the entrance door to the garden. ( I have planted one outside the door in Wembley   –  only a few reluctant flowers every year.) The  Frangipani was right at the unkempt back and I only realised its wonderful fragrance before we moved. Our mother fought with us to take an interest  in the beautiful scented garden and clean it but to no avail…. Her favourite flower was the Souci (Marigold). Souci means worry in French and we the children always commented on how appropriate it was for our always worried  mother.

The surprise early on arrival was the big box full of matching crockery – something I had never seen before. Mum did complain about the waste of money but I remember dancing at seeing such a luxury.  

We had no furniture and only one room for me and my brothers. The whole family remembers how my elder brother (Mony aged 14+? at the time) carried and installed a heavy wardrobe in order to separate us from him. Of course I considered this gesture as an insult as I was two years older than my brother. It is in this house that our youngest brother was born. 

Mony (Sebastien now) was forced to take me to the seaside when he used to meet his friends. He never allowed me to walk with him, I had to follow him a few steps back.  At the seaside he abandonned me. I spent time eyeing the muscly young men training lengths while my brother and friends were playing  in the Mediterranean waves.  

Our baby brother was born. Mum was not in her bed one night and she appeared in the morning with a big parcel in her arms. My father asked me to babysit one day.  I had decided that I would have nothing to do with this baby.  My rebellion got me the first and only hard slap.   I   had escaped to the  terrace of the house and my father came and administered the one and only slap that I have ever experienced. 

While the boys went to the  mixed gender school I was sent to the girls’ school. No way of finding out how long we lived in this beautiful house but surely a few years. I recall it with love.  

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Finally access to my computer after a few days of thechnological problems abstinence.

 The temptation to give it all up is strong. But Helas my intellectual activities are few and far between due to my dementia: no reading possible and no social group activities. My blog is the only thing that gives me a feeling of being somebody. 

 Another sunny day. I cannot stop myself from watching the garden from the kitchen window. I have been doing this in the last few days amazed by the richness of the colours of our plants. I cannot remember ever seeing these changes and this profusion of shades. Did I see this last year, the year before? Was the Magnolia tree so big and so beautifully changing warm shades subtly every day? Was my favourite baby Mulberry so green yellow when I bought it a long time ago to remind me of our Beirut garden?  

Two very bright red flowers visit frorm the nextdoor fence and the other more boring plants try to keep up with this sunny autumn…. Two very ancient trees grow in the next gardens on the other side of our fence. The one opposite our house is still very green not shedding any leaves. The next opposite our neibourgh’s on the right is nearly devoid of any leaves. This morning our lawn is full of the dead leaves from the oak tree.

The varied shades of yellow fascinate me – so many of them. How come I do not remember if not the actual colours at least the delight they produced? I consult the computer. Yes every November year after year I took photos of the beautiful autumn changes…. in Kew.

In the front entry of the house, the Japanese apple trees are finally denuded of all leaves. Am I glad to be spared the daily sweeping of the dead leaves from the front path….

Yes it is wonderful to relish again thanks to my dementia the wonders of nature.

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At the moment I find that I am more interested in the changes in myself than in films and old women. I have the strong feeling that my brain is divided into then and now with very vivid memories of my early childhood in the Middle East. 

I was born on the 3rd  of January 1935 in Iskenderun where my father worked away from his Aleppo  roots. Some of my official papers quote 9th of January as my birthday…   

My early youth before the war was spent between Iskenderun,  Tripoli  and Aleppo. Of these years I recall next to nothing. When war was declared in the area, the extended family as Italian subjects had to retreat to my Grandmother’s house in Aleppo. Of the crowd of people I saw every day I will mention the people who made a strong impression on me.

The Rachel-Murad couple: She was a teacher trained by the Alliance Francaise in Palestine and came to work. She had lived as a paying guest in the Picciotto family house and taught

in the Alliance School not far away. She had two very young boys. The grandmother favoured the older one, seeing in him a “Picciotto”. She is inscribed in my memory as the aunt who made landscapes of the food in order to make Robert, my younger brother, eat his meals.  Later, on holiday , she took us at sunrise to the mountain and made us do exercises. She believed in healthy eating and her fruit salad was everybody’s favourite. 

Of her husband I do not recall anything…. 

Rachel: my aunt, in the middle of the Picciotto family. She was a slave to her 5 brothers even if some were much younger than her. They ordered her about and this infuriated me. I saw another side of her at the Orodisback shop where she was in charge of the glove department. I was fascinated by the range of shapes and colours and sizes and asked her if she knew the price of every one of them. Her positive response impressed me. Up to now I can see the counters and drawers and display. 

Robert my younger brother screamed and fought   against going to school every morning. He had to be carried by two members of the school to push him into the  school car…. Sitting on the steps of the house waiting for our mother to come back from a visit he told us stories that he invented.. 

My older brother Mony:  One event. The day the war ended he pushed a bed to the window that overlooked  a Synagogue’s entrance and jumped on it time and time again…..  

There were always loud arguments, disputes,   disagreements, orders. Of course they did not affect me.   

I loved my grandmother Reina. I was given her name  that was changed to Rina when I started school. She ruled the whole extended family with the help of her oldest son, my father.  Always a cigarette in her mouth or hand, she constantly requested cups of coffee and in the evening her arak.   She had favourites but as I was the only girl in the next generation I was specially loved. But she was hard on my mother. I can see her before Aleppo was bombed establish her safe corner in the cellar. I can see the shelter she prepared. It had the brazier to make coffee, a comfortable chair, a table with a bottle of Arak and cigarettes.  I do not know why this image did not involve other people but I remember that after all nobody used it….. 

The Houses: 

The Picciottos lived in an old house. The living quarters were on the first floor. On the ground floor was an open space and a dark passage where there was an entrance to the kitchen and also the well and a toilet. I see my mother and Rachel squatting around a primus stove in the open space and grandmother showing them how to cook something. I never ventured into the dark kitchen. An uncle used to threaten to lock us in the toilet if we misbehaved. The well was used to cool fruit and vegetables in the summer.  

The Abrahams lived in a different area in a flat on the third floor with a balcony next to a tall tree. I always escaped there to listen to the wind in the branches… 

There were carpets in the sitting room, a piano, other musical instruments and an exercise wall in the hall. Once I caught a glimpse of the Turkish speaking  maid and wondered where she slept.

When the war ended we went to Beirut. 

Pre war photo Mum Dad and do not recognise the other adult

our house in Aleppo
me, my two brothers, Rachel’s two boys and cousin Abraham
another family house ????

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21st. July 2021

A massive event in my  life. My husband has a heart attack and a couple of strokes/ 2 weeks in hospital and self discharge with a couple of replacement body bits…. Luckily younger daughter had arrived just as I called the ambulance and took over. 

 Since my diagnosis years ago it was assumed that my husband would be my carer  and he was a very good one. The roles were suddenly reversed. Arrangements were made for our needs and we managed a quiet and boring life in isolation from family and friends. I gave up any personal activity and I wondered if I should join the dementia sites. 

I decided that my experience of being ignored by my friends  was worth writing about and read by the people who read my film blog  rather than the special readers interested in dementia. 

The diagnosis of my dementia had the effect of me disappearing from the people I knew. Apart from a couple of very good friends and a cousin who corresponds with me, the rest of people I shared an interest with for years in meetings and discussions, holidays,  just erased me from their consciousness. 

Never a direct mail to me. Never an enquiry to my husband about me or a mail asking me how I was coping. Of course I felt guilty of my own behaviour when I found the difficulty of corresponding or visiting a friend I worked with on old age and films…..   

Now that the situation is more settled I tried to go back to my blog. Last week we viewed “It must be heaven”.   I just could not follow the meanings of the film at all and went to sleep.  A film that should have been of interest to me , directed by a well known Palestinian director: Elia Suleiman.   I decided to view it again in the morning when I am more alert.  I took notes of  the different scenes. 

Amazingly I did read their meanings  and deep references and the film made sense.   

Will I be able to follow this technique with other films? 

But first of all I must try the transcription of my notes and see if they make sense . 

Had a look at my notes and wondered how to deal with such complex scenes and subjects. After a try to reach the issues that I found most important to me, I decided to restrict my analysis to those that I found personally interesting. 

It was possible do divide the film in 4 parts. 

1- Palestine 

2- Paris

3- New York.  

4- Conclusion 

Personally I felt that the Palestine section was the most important to understand and decided to restrict myself to analysing this first section…. 

I had a look at the notes that I took while watching the film.  

The most difficult to interpret  but the most meaningful were the first scenes. For me they were the most emotional and meaningful since I lived my youth in Beirut.  

1- Palestine: the first scene is of a very well attended Christian ceremony. A huge crowd led by a priest is trying to enter a locked church. The  lead priest  (I am not versed in Palestinian Christian sects) comes to the rescue. He takes his head cover off,  goes to the back of the church and with a noise of forced bangs opens the door. For me there was no doubt that these scenes expressed the presence of a resistant Christian population in Palestine . 

I will not describe the events in any order but will extract the story and how I interpret the scenes.

2- The balcony. As in many Middle Eastern buildings the balcony is a very important space where social life and events take place. It is from this vantage point that our main character observes the street and the garden.  A man politely excuses himself for cutting some branches and explains that the lemon  trees need pruning…  

3- In the interior of the house, he is seen watering his little tree, checking the clock, examining photos in the bedside drawer. We realise that the flat showing  disabled people’s  implements belonged to  the recently deceased parents. The bedside table showed a Virgin Mary.   Later the chairs and packing boxes are put in the back of a van that hurries away. 

4- As he walks in the street a group of menacing young men holding threatening sticks rush ahead. They pass by without touching him. Again our fear is dismissed. 

5- Outside the house the man visits the cemetery.  Another hint to take us to the past. 

6 – The  interior of a cafe and  morose two men and one woman around a table : the owner is called and accused of serving a sour meal to the woman. The calm and pleasant owner explains that the taste is due to wine. Accused then to serve alcohol he calmly explains that it is not people who imbibed the alcohol but the chicken that was cooked with the food. The altercation finishes with  a drink for all. Is it alcohol that they drink? 

7- The street and neighbours:  An old man with a hunting rifle accosts our character and tells him the story of an encounter he had  with a menacing huge bird and a snake.  He saves the snake by shooting the bird and later he sees the snake greeting him and blowing up the deflated wheel of his car. 

8- The town square:  a group of women look at the back of a woman spread in a cross shape against a ruined wall. 

There is a quiet feeling in the square. A couple of relaxed policemen next to their motor bike. A man loaded with cameras and other modern equipment is accosted by two policemen. Once again we fear for the man we follow. They only would like to borrow his binoculars. The only character that  intrigued me and that I do not understand is  a young man with a damaged eye  (seen before in the street) who finishes  his drink, pees and throws the bottle against the water fountain….    

9. It is raining heavily.  A very old man is peeing against the wall and distressed seems to think that the rain water is produced by himself and says that he cannot stop the flow and that this has  never happened to him before. He is approached by our main character who gently explains the situation to him and invites hime to walk with him under the umbrella. 

The end of the first sequences sees the departure  of the man to France and the USA in order to sell a film script. His drive is very familiar to me. Long stretches of dry land interrupt olive trees groves and Cactus plants *  

 A woman in traditional clothes carries on her head a classical shaped container that she puts on the ground in exchange for another. At the end of the film this ritual is changed. I did not grasp the deep meaning of this sequences. Help me if you can. 

2- Paris

3- New York.

I have not done justice to the first sequences of the film but I wanted to express my reactions to scenes after scenes where fear is expressed but not justified. 

The next parts of the film,  Paris and NewYork are easier to interpret. My impressions are that Paris themes are beautiful women, selfishness,  and powerful weapons of war. 

As for New York after the abundance of people with armaments there is an atmosphere of fantasy.  Big supermarkets full of goods and chases in a beautiful park. 

Both these episodes are easy to interpret and analyse. 

In both countries his attempts at presenting his script are rejected. The rejections are very different. in style. In France  the rejection is explained in long sentences that signified that the story is not Palestinian enough. In the USA his presence is just ignored by an attractive woman, in favour of his friend who did introduce him. 

The last episode is the consultation with a 

fortune teller who predicts: Yes there will be a Palestine but…… not in your Lifetime . 

*I am told that in Israel young men are called Sabra the Hebrew word for the plant because they are prickly on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside….. 

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A Really Bad Film : Se Souvenir des Belles Choses (2001)

My last blog dates to Sept 2020. Since then my computer refuses to follow my instructions and I gave up blogging until the visit of a young relative found the offending mistake…… 

With our daily viewing of feature films during this computer strike, we (my partner and me) had to change my choice of old women films and agree to watch a variety of films for a variety of reasons. A brother of mine from New Zealand recommended a Lebanese series. He chose it because the sound of spoken Arabic made him nostalgic for his youth. We did not have the will to go beyond two episodes\. A cousin on the other hand sang the praises of an Israeli series that we got hooked on and viewed in its entirety. In this case the film recalled for us our stay in Israel where we met. We did not last long in this apartheid country. 

I received this morning in the post a French DVD  : “Se Souvenir des Belles Choses”  (2001). I cannot remember why or when I ordered it. I must have done so because it is about Dementia. Not available in English I viewed it in French. I started it in the morning and found it unbearable. Its treatment of a home and staff for mentally ill people is so superficial that it tends to the gross  comic. 

I finished the viewing this afternoon. It went from bad to worse. The interview with the director was just as superficial and nonsensical….. 

No expert in the matter I just wonder if 20 years ago mental illness was more of a  taboo subject than it is now…. 

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As an old couple under lockdown for months we have been viewing an awful lot of TV (films, series,   documentaries, zooms) and had to bend to each other’s choices…. 

On my first viewing  I did not realise that The Mole Agent was categorised as a documentary.  I just did not understand what it was trying to say. That women in homes are lonely in spite of good care? I left the film aside. 

The major reviewers before the Academy Awards were highly complimentary. But I agreed with Bradshaw in the Guardian. ….    I couldn’t make friends with this film because of its pointless and twee contrivance, which undermined its genuine ideas. Not fakery exactly, but an exasperating lack of candour as to how this whole thing has been set up.

I found the film superficial and was disturbed by the 4 men/40 women ratio of the residents. A ratio that needed explanation.   Also the residents seem to be chosen so that they could represent different types of old women from the  woman crying for her mother in her dementia to the poet in bed. 

Altogether I feel the film is superficial simply expressing unsurprising the discovery that old women in homes feel lonely. 

The Mole Agent: the story of the most unusual documentary of the year

Alberdi explained that the gender breakdown in this particular nursing home is not common in Chile. Men are usually dumped in homes, while women are kept with the children or grandchildren they raised. However, this particular home goes back decades, with a clientele largely made up of women who never married, had children or found their independence with careers.

Radheyan Simonpillai

Tue 1 Sep 2020 16.36 BST

Posted in Ageing, alzeihmer, care homes, carers, dementia, documentary, FILM RECEPTION, oscar, women's friendships | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


It was the time when there were major reorganisations of the National Health Service and I was not prepared to give up the lab I worked in. I was part/time in this lab where I specialised in EEG and involved in research. 

When I reached my 60 years I resigned. My daughters had left home and with my husband still very involved in his writing and singing I looked for some activities to pass the time. I joined a group that was forming a local u3a , bought binoculars and joined the Bird Watching world  .  

It is in this organisation that I met a woman my age, a trained nurse who came from South Africa. We immediately became close friends as we understood each other’s home sickness. 

On one of our tours I noticed that she stayed behind the group and kept looking into the tree where a bird was hiding. We all saw it but she stayed behind and when she caught up with us declared: it took me a long time but I saw it in the end. I did not realise that this might have been the first indication of some problem…. A month? more? I cannot remember. We were walking along a path in the outskirts of London. She stopped and showed me the wall of a destroyed building and asked me : Look can you see the beautiful  painting on the wall ? I looked and looked and all I saw was a wall with climbing vegetation. 

It is around this time that our paths diverged. 

She went on holiday to some friends in Canada.   Out of the blue she wrote to me that she was worried again  as looking through her binoculars she saw in the distance a huge brown animal when there was nothing there. When she walked in the  early night she saw figures in empty squares. But she wrote ‘I do not understand.  They did not find anything wrong with my vision.’ 

She must have had other symptoms that she did not discuss with me but I got a phone call telling me that she had finally consulted with her GP, who had sent a specialist nurse with a series of psychological tests to her house. She performed with no mistakes. She must have failed on different tests that I did not know about. A few weeks later she phoned me to say that she would like me to come with her to a consultation at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.  She was referred by the local hospital and her husband was away. 

The consultation was long and even involved an EEG. (I remember I did not think much of their equipment). I heard her say that she found difficulty in reading – something she had not told me before and that she was depressed, home sick, and prone to bouts of anger.     Weeks later she told me that the consultant found nothing wrong but advised the GP to keep an eye on her. 

We started to have very separate lives. She was still working making new friends and interests.   I decided to carry on my academic studies. Ageism was my field of study. My preferred subject was the representation of of old women in feature films. It took me a few years to get my Masters.  We stopped seeing each other and the few encounters were awkward. I was excited by my new interest while she was mostly silent. 

 A few years later during the lockdowns I received an invitation to join a Zoom dedicated  to my friend who had  died of Alzheimers .   

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23 WALKS (2020)

How I miss my older-women-in film groups. Both the Brent U3A one and the Ealing Oldies Network group. 

Both groups were very well attended (no fewer than 8 in bad weather and up to 40 people per session) by older women and the occasional brave man. The discussions were very lively. Participation was welcomed.  General interest about films varied from film buffs to less experienced in discussing films . 

We  sometimes disagreed  strongly with the reviews in the press and with one and another. But what we had in common were the long years of experience of life in general and relationships in particular and this is what is lacking in the reviews of this film. 

Many of the reviewers of the film 23 Walks talk about Romance, Late Age Romance, Autumn Romance  

Not a great film,  it is nevertheless  a very interesting film about ageing. Yes the early walks of the two characters and funny dogs tend to last a bit too long but the dogs alleviate the solitude of their owners and help bring the couple together.

What struck me is this film is the way it exposes the complex lives of old people: the present with its problems and the past still encroaching on the present. It deserves a proper analysis. 

I just wonder if an audience of old women would  read the film as I did and see in it more that just an Autumn Romance  

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, alzheimer, audience responses, care homes, carers, critics, dementia, family, FILM RECEPTION, grief | 1 Comment


On 31 Jan 2021, at 17:49, Rina Rosselson <> wrote:

Why is it that the film Amour is often quoted in reviews of Still Mine?  And do all stories with old couples fall into the same genre? Isn’t Still Mine also a film about dementia? It is not quoted generally in lists of films about dementia… 

Stephen Holden in the New York Times July 18, 2013 “Still Mine,” like Michael Haneke’s “Amour” and Sarah Polley’s “Away From Her,” is an old-age love story told with minimal sentimentality. But he is one of the few critics of the film who does mention that the “aged couple is at the centre of Still Mine.”

Dementia, Alzheimers, the words cover many different aspects of these conditions but the general  emotion they stimulate is one of fear.   For me this film is one of the best about early Dementia in the life of a couple.

Still Mine is a realist film about Craig and Irene in a changing world.  The main interesting characteristic of the film is how the dementia in one partner and the changes in the farming circumstances affect the lives of the couple without changing their loving relationship. The advice to partners who become carers is often that they should keep a life of their own and this is well portrayed in the film. And this is why it is possible for me to examine Irene’s story separately from Craig’s.   A farmer, Craig is forced to quit his work and decides to build a one storey house for his wife who has fallen down the stairs and is showing signs of early dementia. He does not consult the authorities in spite of warnings from his friend and neighbour and is brought to court. Meanwhile Irene’s dementia is starting to deteriorate.  
The film in all its characteristics is extremely true to life. It is said to be based on real life.

The physical appearance of the old couple. There are many close-ups with lined faces and old bodies of Irene and Craig. While Craig is tall and powerful, Irene is small and delicate. The naked bodies are shown discreetly and briefly in a fews scenes.  Their sexual lives are revealed in a nude scene.    Take off your clothes I want to look at you old man. The couple embrace naked. Some scenes of conversations in bed are also intimate and warm. But eventually problems occur.   

First signs of dementia:  I will not elaborate on the children’s relationship with the couple. Generally the son does not want to intervene in his father’s decisions while the daughter keeps suggesting a diagnosis first and then to investigate homes for Irene. The first signs of a creeping dementia are not observed by Craig.  It is the daughter who asks her father to request the doctor’s advice. But he forgets to ask and declares a clean bill of health. At the beginning Craig finds some excuses :  She has her good days and her bad days, that’s all. She’s fine. 
It is when Irene fails to recognise their own cows escaping through the fences and when she leaves an oven glove on the stove that Craig comes to term with the fact that she may be losing her memory.  What did you do to our kitchen ? I didn’t do anything to the kitchen. You left an oven mitt on the stove. Oh, don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t. Yes, you did! 
Her fall down the stairs inspires him to build for her a one storey house. He has the skill to do so as he has been taught by his father who was a ship-builder. But he has big trouble with the authorities who want to  control the proceedings… One evening, because he is a bit fed up and she does not seem to understand the situation, he gets annoyed, leaves her to her knitting and goes upstairs.  In the lounge downstairs she caresses her wedding ring and in the next shot we see him do the same.  It is the only scene when Craig is shown as irritable.  After this scene we see her sitting knitting next to the building where Craig is working. 

 How could I have forgotten that? I’m sorry. I wasn’t gone that long. Don’t do that again. 
After Irene falls down the stairs, she considers herself lucky not to have broken her hip and is optimistic about the future.  Craig sticks notes on the doors of the whole house  to remind Irene of their function.   I won’t forget.

 Of course you won’t but just in case

Easy, easy. I told you I was in the shop.

Irene gets very frightened when she is left alone and  panics.  
Irene? What’s wrong?  Where were you? – I called you, but you didn’t answer. I didn’t know where you’d gone.

Intimate conversations in bed: while her short term memory is deeply affected, some of her conversation show a very keen awareness of her needs and worries.  Long term memories (over 30 years ago) come to the surface. 
Demand not to be moved  :  No, I’m not moving into town. Irene demands an assurance that they will not move away from their home and that she will not be placed in a retirement home (the preferred solution suggested by their daughter).  And you’ll have to shoot me before you find me in a retirement home. Promise me one thing. Mm-hmm. We won’t move until we have to  Fair enough.
Worry about loss of memory . Irene does not remember the reason for moving the bedroom into the living room and worries about it. Craig reassures her telling her that it is the result of her fall. So you can’t remember a couple of things, so what? We’re still here. We have each other. And isn’t else a bonus? I hope so.
Fear of the future and recall of painful past memories and worry about being betrayed. You know what scares me? What if I forget everything? You’ll still be my Irene. Promise?
Then follows a long conversation about Bernice, a very clever friend.  It is not clear whether Craig had an affair with her or not as he is open about his admiration for her. He avoids a clear answer.  At Irene’s insistence he declares that she died 30 years ago. This changes Irene’s jealousy to pity. But she insists that she would not tolerate  it if he had an affair….
 I still will.What? Leave you if you cheat on me.
A very warm and loving hug.  

Next sequences show Irene deteriorating. She leaves the house on a long trip to the beach. Evening. Craig is washing up. When he finishes he cannot find his wife anywhere and with the car goes round to find her.  She is at the beach smoking a cigarette in rapture at the beauty of the sight. She seems more confused than usual and cannot remember how she got the cigarettes after 50 years of non smoking. She looks absent to her husband and declares she would like to come to the beach more often and utters in French “ C’est beau” .( Is French her first language?). He persuades her to get her into the car. Irene seems to be more confused and irrational than she has been up to now and they drive home in the dark. She falls asleep. 

When they arrive at the house Craig tries to wake Irene up and to get out of the car.

Irene behaves in violent aggressive way and refuses to go into the house. She fights, makes funny noises and  even bites him.  It is dark and cold and Craig has to force her. She trips on her shoe and breaks a hip. 


A brief scene at night at home and cut to her hospital  bedside. She wakes up. 

You have never bought me roses. Roses? They’re from an admirer. You never bought me roses, never before. You never broke your hip before.broke my hip? Because your husband is a fool.The surgery went very well.

Later in the hospital I have been looking for you. Where were you?   I came this morning came from the house What house ?…I missed you . I missed you too. How are you doing  I ve been better  Me too.  She cries….sobbing

Funeral of friend : Brief scene shows that Irene is sensitive to other people’s emotions. At the funeral of the neighbour, she puts a caring hand on the shoulder of the widow, while Craig cries.  

The last scenes show Craig finishing the house and putting in the furniture.  

News in the papers: No jail for Craig 

He is seen thinking,, sitting in a chair in a fully furnished room. Irene arrives with the help of a walking frame. She caresses his hair asks him how long since his last haircut.   Been a while …She puts the towel around his neck. He  gives her the scissors with a smile. The usual? For a split second we see only her looking from an empty chair through the window with a view of the sea. Craig calls her : Irene? you are cutting my hair? She asks for the second time : How long since you had your hair cut?  
He replies with a patient smile: It’s been a while. 
He smiles. She kisses his head. 
The film is very complex in its subject matter and cinematography. Rather than writing a detailed study I wanted to show  how Dementia can be portrayed in a fresh way . It can be seen as a guide of how to understand and communicate with a partner with dementia.

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The newly released film on Netflix: Kirsten Johnson’s Dick Johnson is Dead (2020) reminded me of the blog I wrote in October 2008:  Sue Bourne’s  Mum and Me. 

Both documentary film makers made the films about a relative. Sue’s about her mother and Kirsten about her father both afflicted by Dementia.  

There is no similarity between the two films. I must admit that while Bourne’s film touched me deeply Johnson’s  did not.

 I did not experienced my father’s confusions at its different states as I lived a long way . But his decline and efforts to remain serious and responsible were tragic. 

I do not understand Johnson’s film. I did not think it was funny or touching as some reviewers write .  At times I even thought that the director used her confused father to express things that he did not understand.   I will not elaborate on the subject. 

I would appreciate anybody who would like to write about it for my blog site….   

BOURNE: Producer/Director, 2008; Winner – Best Documentary at the Celtic Media Film Festival,[11] Winner – Mental Health Media “Making A Difference” Award

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OLD AGE AND CARE : Amour, Chronic, A Woman’s Tale


Isolated from family and friends under tier 4, unable to research with any enthusiasm I have decided to end the writing of 2020.
But first I must come back to my blog of December 19th, where I touched on an article by Tamara Jenkins about the representation of Dementia in films….

She declares that Amour and The Savages are the only films that convey the more savage aspects of the disease….. (that is dementia).

I also noted in passing that the title of Amour in IMDB was a few lines of a Bradshaw’s article mentioning Dementia. I realised that Jenkins must have been influenced by Bradshaw and left for the next day to explore her reading. I am used to viewing films with groups of people and know that interpretations can be very varied and sometimes biased. See “Reading Film with Age Through Collaborative Auto-ethnography” in Women and Ageing recently published*.

When I came to read my notes again the next day I found that the entry of the Bradshaw Amour in IMDB had been changed to another title not quoting dementia or Bradshaw. Some of my notes about Bradshaw’s review had also disappeared.
However some quotes remain:

Over breakfast one morning, Anne appears to freeze, in a trance; Georges desperately splashes water on her neck to wake her, and angrily asks if this is a joke, while of course being all too aware that it isn’t. His face is convulsed with fear; hers has already attained that classically blank, leonine state of the dementia patient.
Peter Bradshaw
Thu 15 Nov 2012 15.29 GMT

suffers the first of a series of strokes which paralyse one arm, making playing the piano impossible, accompanied by progressive dementia.

But soon disaster strikes: Anne suffers the first of two strokes, complicated by what appears to be vascular dementia.
Peter Bradshaw
Thu 15 Nov 2012 15.29 GMT

I am sensitive to the use of the word dementia, its meanings and uses. I quote the medical dictionary.
Definition Dementia is a loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting more than six months, not present since birth, and not associated with a loss or alteration of consciousness.

What I find shocking in Bradshaw’s use of the term is that it denies Anne the dignity and autonomy of refusing hospital care and asking for relief of her pain and help to die. It also distorts the meaning of the other social aspects of the couple’s life. Aspects that the director’s brings to light often in cinematic terms: the couple’s isolation, the lack of provision of adequate support, the difficulty of the loving partner to care on his own. These aspects are not the fabrication of a demented woman but issues that have touched most viewers into silence….

To finish the year I must mention Jenkins’s declaration about the Savages. Yes the film contains a horror scene when the dementing father write with excrement on the wall to protest about a carer. But the film explores more extensively his bad parenting of his son and daughter and their problems when confronted by the need to look after their dementing father.

Women and Ageing
Private Meaning , Social Lives
Edited by
Margaret O’Neill and Michaela Schrage-Fruh
pp 66-89


Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, alzheimer, audience responses, care, carers, death, euthanasia, Film Analysis, FILM RECEPTION, grief, horror films, love, old couple separation | Leave a comment


In my plan to write about and study films about dementias I realise that the research involved is too complex and beyond my available time and interest.  I know nothing about horror films and it seems to me that it requires a special knowledge of the genre.  I will limit my research to films where the main subject is a woman as I have done for my previous work.

Before I embark on a different path, I will also like to chose films where dementia is the main subject and try to avoid the misrepresentation exemplified bu the review in the Guardian:

I’ve yet to see a film that sufficiently gets to the heart of what it means to watch a loved one lose their mind to dementia. Those that have garnered attention and awards over the years, while incredibly affecting, are suffused with a worthiness or restraint that somehow neglects the dementia that I have witnessed. There are some notable exceptions: Michael Haneke’s Amour and Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages do well to convey the more savage aspects of the disease. 


Amour is certainly not about dementia.  And yet this is quoted in IMDB – a site I always considered as reliable. 

I will also ignore films where the dementia is a minor subject and the role played by the affected person is minimal.

In often quoted The Savages (2007) the main theme is the impact made by the needs of a dementing father on his estranged unloved daughter and son. There is a shocking scene of the demented father abusing his carer but this is a device to convey the unpleasant character of the father….. 

I will also avoid similar films where the demented character is not the main subject of the film for example  Firefly Dreams(2001). A beautiful visual film more interesting  about the teenager than the old woman she visits…. 

 I recently obtained the DVD of a difficult-to-find film “ What they Had” (2018).  I wonder why this film has not been more widely distributed.  Still Mine (2012) a Canadian film about an old couple also did not deserve this oversight. I will start my study after Xmas with this touching film. 

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I was distracted from my blog about the subject of Couple Separations In Feature Films by Nicole Davis’s article in the Guardian.  (see Film And Dementias in the Guardian)

In my research about the representation of old women in feature films I had avoided viewing and sharing Still Alice because of  my fear of dementia and the excuse that Alice – linguistic professor – was not an old woman  ….a fear that I am exploring now after I have been diagnosed with dementia. 

I cried throughout the viewing not because Alice’s husband left her when she most needed him but because the film corresponded with my experience of early symptoms of the disease. The age did not matter to me ( I am 86).  I must explain here that the film follows Alice from the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer to the last stages of the disease…. the representation of early symptoms were to me uniquely accurate…  

The reason for the separation of the couple is here reversed as it is not due to the dementia symptoms of non recognition of the loved one but from the deliberate decision of the husband needing to fulfil his career.  

Incidentally I recall reading – long before my first symptoms – Alan Bennett’s declaration  about his mother who was demented – I stopped visiting her when she stopped recognising me. I was shocked at the time because I thought  he could not possibly know how she felt.     

Coming back to Alice. She did ask her husband if they could spend a year off together before the symptoms got worse. As he would lose his own job he refused… 

This is un unusual and very upsetting representation of   an old couple’s separation. The usual reasons are financial circumstances, death, return of the past, men’s need for young women and their variations. 

The newly released Relic alerts me to a Film genre that I excluded from my interest:  the Horror Film. Yet I am forced to delve into this  by my interest in the representation of dementia.

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AWAY FROM HER (2008) and Still Alice (2014)

Of all couple separations the separation due to dementia can be the most painful. Major illnesses in a partner, a child are also difficult to live through. It is the erasing of the partner and his/her annihilation that is unbearably painful in dementia.

 I have avoided writing about Away From Her (AFH). I also avoided showing and discussing it in film groups. Of course this was due to the fear of equating old age with dementia –  covering  the fear of the illness itself.  When I saw this film at the BFI I came out surprised. Surprised that at the beginning of the illness it is possible early on to make decisions for oneself and that care homes can be compassionate. Now that I am at the beginning of the illness and able to think for myself I appreciate the film. If we consider the importance of feature films on culture, I believe that it is as crucial to represent the variety of dementias and their progress rather than just the end game as advocated by Davis. Alas there is such a condition as early onset dementia and it is a genetic condition. Davis    criticises the film Still Alice for choosing a young linguistic professor to sugar the pill so to speak.  In Still Alice  the separation of the couple is cruel. The couple are in their 50s, the husband has a career ahead of him and he chooses to leave his wife and accept a post away. 

My personal experience of dementia and relationships has been first and foremost the fear of the illness. I lived in a country away from my father and saw him rarely. A proud man, he never expressed weakness and it was when he had to be admitted into an Alzheimer home that I realised the situation.  My visit was short. He had changed  from an extremely powerful man to a compliant friendly person who seemed to live in his world of business and who  mistook any woman around for my mother….  

When a friend of mine was diagnosed I stopped seeing her for a time and when I did, it was in the presence of her husband and she was already silent.  

In AFH we have a woman who decides that she does not wish on her husband the heartache of the last stages of not being recognised and decides to enter a care home.  The rule of the home to leave a month between the patient’s admission and the first visit of the relative seems arbitrary but is a film device to explain the behaviour of the dementing wife who does not recognise her husband any more and cares for a man who does not speak.  The pain of the unrecognised husband is well portrayed in this film. It does not require much imagination to feel the anguish experienced when day after day one is ignored by the person you lived with for years…. It does not need a horror film…to imagine the hurt, the pain of a person who is ignored, unrecognised by the companion of a lifetime.  

Viewed Relic last night. I realise that my feelings about it cannot be taken without considering my state. I was fascinated and horrified throughout but I found it impossible to square it with my experience of people with Alzheimer’s and their relatives. I saw it as a horror film and I had no way of identifying with any of the three women. How could I ? 

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, alzeihmer, alzheimer, care, care homes, Film Analysis, film noir, grief, horror films, old couple separation, three generations of women | Tagged , | 1 Comment


I was about to write about Away From Her when I caught a surprising article in the Guardian online.


I have been diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer and Vascular Dementia a year ago.   I realise now from remembering some incidents that the illness had started at least 3 years previously without me or anybody noticing it.  I have experienced from afar my father’s tragic trajectory. But in my blog about old women in feature films I have avoided examining in detail films about dementia as I did not to wish to equate old age with dementia. 

I find it difficult to understand Davis’s article. I will not comment its title as I suspect it is the concoction of a newspaper’s sub-editor.  I needed to read it many times to follow what the author is saying: 

I’ve yet to see a film that sufficiently gets to the heart of what it means to watch a loved one lose their mind to dementia. Those that have garnered attention and awards over the years (Still Alice, Iris, Away from Her), while incredibly affecting, are suffused with a worthiness or restraint that somehow neglects the dementia that I have witnessed. There are some notable exceptions: Michael Haneke’s Amour and Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages do well to convey the more savage aspects of the disease.

Davis starts by declaring that Haneke’s  Amour is about dementia. It is impossible to agree with this pronouncement. There is nothing in Amour to confuse this complex film about a loving couple with dementia. It is about a woman suffering a series of strokes, her carer husband, euthanasia and finally suicide.  It has nothing to do with dementia. As for The Savages there is no exploration of the savage aspects of the disease. The two children of a demented unloved father find themselves responsible for his welfare.  

She carries on by praising and quoting a new documentary film just released on Netflix. Does she know the difference between documentary and fiction? She goes on by praising a feature film this time. A horror Australian film that seemingly dwells on the “terrifying aspects of dementia”. She describes the hallucinatory aspects of the disease etc… 

Other films not yet released in London are quoted and praised.  I cannot pronounce on any of these films as I have not seen them but her arguments about the films she writes about seem to mix documentaries with feature films  and compares these films with her experience of losing a loved one to the illness. 

 Still Alice  “manages to avoid the uglier symptoms of the disease. …..    Unveiling the uglier elements of dementia is important. We need to see the worst of the illness to know what we’re up against”… “The most sinister part of films like Still Alice is the suggestion that a life with dementia is not worth living.” 

It seems that she does not appreciate that there are many different kinds of dementia, that they vary with the individuals they affect, both those who suffer from the disease and those who care for them. Films about the illness cannot explore all of its many aspects in one screening. 

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There are two big films about old couples in my list of blogs : Amour and Iris. 

I did not think that Iris was entirely fiction and I did not include it in my studies.  However I mentioned it because the audience of the Brent U3A film group found the treatment of dementia was very good and useful.  On the other hand I was furious at a comment  in Lewis,  a TV series, when the policeman enters a household and sees the place with books and papers all over the room, the floor and exclaims:   

 I see….,   Murdoch’s style of interior design

Since then a friend who knew my feelings about the film recommended an article by Lucy Bolton: The Intertextual Stardom of Iris  in 

Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures. edited by Laura Mulvey and Anna Backman Rogers

I quote : The film legacy however is that the name of Iris Murdoch has become inextricably linked with Alzheimer’s disease and  her image  of the older unwell and no longer capable Murdoch is the prevalent persona that emerges from the film. 

I have blogged about Amour (2012). I saw it at the NFT. At the end the audience remained silent longer than I have experienced in my long life of film going. The film received countless international awards  in many categories,  Best Film, Director, Screenplay, and Actors. Here I would like to point out that the actors Riva and Trintignant, were the same ages as the roles they played. This enhanced the realist issues of isolation, ageing with a disability, poor caring, and tragically separation and death. The separation of the loving couple music teachers started on the return of the wife after the unsuccessful surgical operation. From then on the roles of the couple had to change.  After repeated strokes she decided that she did not want to go back for surgery and expressed her desire to die.   He had to become the carer with all the hard work involved and the pain of seeing her demand to die. She even  attempted to throw herself out of the window. When she refused eating and drinking and her pain became too hard to bear he did end her life by suffocating her with a pillow.  He then committed suicide. 

The film demonstrates  how relationships of couples can change not only in their roles but in the kind of emotional attachment they have to each other….. 

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Why did I pair Cloud9 and Innocence? After 20 years of examining films about older women I wonder. The two films have little in common except sexual desire and sexual scenes. The first has been lauded the other neglected. The first one is embarrassingly obvious the second has many threads. The first one has no cinematic value the second uses film language wonderfully well and portrays years of living together in a credible way. 

I suppose that in my research many years ago  about old women in films these were the only ones  that included sexual scenes. 

I analysed and blogged the two films. Here I comment on the separation of two couples. In Cloud9 the husband is portrayed as a caring but boring man and the wife as a bored selfish woman who leaves her husband for a curiously uninteresting  but sporty man. The husband commits suicide. 

In Innocence the wife and lover have a past history of love if not passion. He reappears after years of force separation and their relationship is reestablished.  The wife is torn between him and a kind husband. The situation is ambiguous and difficult to solve. It is avoided by the death of the wife after a heart attack .

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CLOUD 9 (2008)

Old couple separation: 

Two films come to mind when I consider an older woman who leaves her husband for another man. 

Innocence (2000) and Cloud9 (2009). Innocence was not distributed in UK but I still remember the fuss made by reviewers and young people  when Cloud9 was distributed in England.  It must have been a reassurance for young or not so young people that sex does not fade away with age….

Cloud 9 (2008 ): It won the award: Jury Coup de Coeur Un Certain Regard in Cannes. Except for Sight and Sound’s Tony Rains, the  majority of reviewers were effusive in their praises: “performances quietly effective, the power of love, quietly powerful film grappling with real emotions, unjudgemental, well worth your time, this is a deeply moving film, immaculately acted, rare emotional power, remarkable lead performance”.  And what surprised me is that some young women concurred with these readings…. 

I was so shocked…. that even young feminists of my acquaintance liked the story of a just over 60 years woman who leaves a caring albeit boring 70+ years old man  to have sex with a good cyclist 70+ old man. I saw the film at the London Film Festival in 2008.  I considered this a boring ageist, sexist film. 

I was comforted when  the DVD was available and I showed it to the Brent U3A film group at the Lexi Community Cinema.  The first comment was: the woman had an overdose of HRT . 

Further contributions : her husband should have pushed her under a train, not all sports are spectator sports, the sex scenes where not erotic , the sex scenes did not work, the sex scenes were certainly too long, the joke aboutsex and the 80 old couple was tasteless the sex scenes were not shocking but boring, not another sex scene, I felt like a voyeur, I kept thinking of the cameraman.,

I cannot recall another film of this genre that so divides the viewers and I can only attribute it to the general fear of ageing.

A full analysis is on June 3rd. 2010

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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”.

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, old couple separation | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


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. 

Posted in ageing couple, Ageism, Conferences and comments, family, food, grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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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