POETRY (2010)

POETRY (2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Afternoons with Margueritte (2010) take 2

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

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

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

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

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





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STILL WALKING (2008)

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

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HANNAH (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

woman crumbling under duress after her husband is incarcerated

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

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

  Hannah imperceptibly deteriorates 

  frigid portrait of a woman in crisis

Isolation and extreme emotional anguish

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

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THE MOTHER (2003) revisited

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

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

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



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ETERNITY AND A DAY (1998)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flash backs and memories: 

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

Importance of the environment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander and Anna his wife: 

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

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

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

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

Alexander and his mother : 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna walks backwards towards the sea. 

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

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

He walks into the sea. 

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“Time Goes By” quote: Ronni Bennett on films

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

And in general, there are just three storylines:

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

 Love in old age (aren’t they cute)

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

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

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