Old Women In Film Guide



This is a very personal film guide that I will post and edit as I write it. Some of the films are great classics. Reviews, essays and analyses can be found online. Others are neglected, unseen, forgotten but worth viewing for their representation of older women. The comments are my own personal ones unless I credit women from the diverse film groups.


Arsenic and Old Lace (1944 dir: Frank Capra): I saw the film with two brothers when I was a teenager. It is then that it dawned on me that there were different ways of seeing a film. My brothers thought that the brother with his military delusions was the funniest part of the film. I relished the way the two inoffensive, mild, shuffling old women sent a young man in a complete panic by talking in a most natural way about death. I did not find it difficult to dismiss their murderous intent. (One of my grandmother was physically just like the women in the film. But she was timid and retiring and had no voice in the household).

Ballad of Narayama (dir:Kinoshita) and The Ballad of Narayama (1983 dir:Imamura): The folk myth of abandoning the old to die on a mountain top when they reach the age of 70. The earlier version is by far the most effective tool to discuss the issue of ageing population and scarcity of resources and its relevance to contemporary ageist discourse. It has only one theme and its Kabuki style permits detachment. Imamura’s film, more complex in its conventional realistic style places the folk myth in a context of general Japanese culture involving life, death, sex and nature.

A Woman’s Tale  (1991 dir: Paul Cox): The friendly relationship that develops between an old woman afflicted by cancer and her young carer is remarkable. Based on Sheila Florance and her attitudes of courage, fun and vitality, the film was written by Cox as a tribute to the actor who is the main character and did die a few weeks after the completion of the film. (the camera does not shy away from the ageing body)

Mother and Son (1997 dir: Alexandr Sokurov): Numerous on-line articles analyse and appraise this lyrical and painterly account of the last hours of a dying woman tended by her loving son. Greatly appreciated by the Women in Film Group 2008

Departures (2008. Dir:Yôjirô Takita): see blog. Need for funeral rituals in danger of being lost. Useful for discussion of different traditions in our multicultural societies.

Amour (2012. dir: Michael Haneke): Highly acclaimed film. See under ‘blog’ and ‘resources’.

The Winter Guest (1997 dir: Alan Rickman):  see post May 2015

Pora umierać (2007 dir: Dorota Kędzierzawska)

Still Walking 


Le Week-End (2013) : unbalanced Kureishi-Michell collaboration about a 30 years anniversary visit to Paris. See post June 2014

Lovely Still  (2008) : rarely mentioned this film needs to be seen fresh without having read capsule or longer reviews. Seen again it will then be appreciated.

Amour (212): Haneke powerful and painful look at the relationship between severly disabled wife and caring husband. See blog

Still Walking 


Make Way For Tomorrow (1937 dir: Leo McCarey) A neglected film only recently reissued on DVD. The gap between parents and adult children in a changing world and the separation of the couple is sensitively treated. A must for students of Ageing Studies. (see blog).

Tokyo Story (1953 dir: Yasujiro Ozu):  Extensively written about film. It takes up the theme of the above.  (see blog)

Le Chat (1971 dir: Pierre Granier-Deferre: A complicated narrative structure gets in the way of appreciating the bitter relationship between husband and wife who are ageing badly. For a detailed analysis see under resources.

Baghban (2003) : a patriarchal take on the subject of the generation gap in a changing world and the duties of children towards their parents. (see blog)

Still Walking 


Two remarkable films about a man  intruding  into the life of his first love many years later. It would be very interesting to compare the two films:  Cox’s  Innocence (2000)  and Téchiné  Les Temps  Qui Changent (2004). In particular each film could inform the other as the views of the older married woman and  her relationships could not be more different.    (See blogs)

For 80 Days (2010): Two women who were in love as teenagers but unable to express their desire, meet again after 50 years. They finally are able to consume their relationship.  ( DVD with English subtitles not available in UK.)

Le Week-End (2013): Kureishi and Michell collaborate again on a nostalgic trip to Paris. (see blog)


Under The Sand (2000): This relationship is not the main subject of the film which contains a very significant scene. (see blog)

Baghban (2003) : same as above.

Still Walking


Sunset Boulevard (1950) :  A classic widely commented upon film directed by Billy Wilder.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962): with the above, the most quoted film when people are asked to name a film about ageing.

Fedora (1978): eighteen years later Wilder comes back to the theme of the ageing film star.

The Killing of Sister George (1968):

Opening Night  (1977): very dense and difficult film. May need repeated viewings to catch all the threads about acting, ageing, gender differences, relationships and their changes that are present. Unusual in that there are roles for women of all ages.

Driving Lessons (2006):  for details see in Resources British films 1997-2006.

Quartet (2012): see post December 13th.

Film Stars don’t die in Liverpool (2017) 


Night of the Hunter (1955 dir: Charles Laughton) , Antonia’s Line (1995 Marleen Gorris ), Gloria (2013 Dir: Sebastian Lelio), There are striking images of older women with a gun in these three films. In the first one  a terrified Lilian Gish sits in a vigil  to defend the children against the preacher. Antonia frightens and drive the rapist out-of-town and in the case of Gloria it is the shooting of paint balls that express her anger. Alexandra (2007)  is the only anti-war film where not a shot is fired. It conveys a powerful message about the futility of war by the simple juxtaposition of an old woman in a military camp.


Three films with a woman in a  grandmother role, not a relation: Gloria (1980), Night of the Hunter (1955), Central Station. Both in Gloria and Central Station the child is male. Antonia’s Line is an actual grandmother.

Grandmothers:  Still Walking 

Antonia’s Line (1995) see blog , Since Otar Left… (2003) see blog

Baboussia (2003)


Pauline and Paulette (2001): Four sisters relationships and ageing.

Marvin’s Room (1996) : Two sisters fall out and get together again.


A few titles with more or less important older women characters (see relevant blogs)

Whisky Galore (1949)The Ladykillers (1955),  Make Mine Mink (1960)


A woman’s Tale (1991): see blog

Marvin’s Room (1996): screenplay written during the Aids epidemic by Scott McPherson.

Amour (2012)

Chronic (2015)


The  Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)X


14 Responses to Old Women In Film Guide

  1. Paola says:

    There is also Gloria by John Cassavetes and the wonderful Opening Night, by this director too, with the extrodinary Gena Rowlands. I’m studying cinema in Paris and I’m doing an essay on these movies, around the question of age for actress and women in general. You’re blog is very interesting, by the way !!

    • rinaross says:

      Thanks for your comments Paola. I know Opening Night but not Cassavete’s Gloria. They are two films I intended to analyse at some point. I would be very interested in reading your essay. I wrote about LE CHAT for my MA dissertation. Have you seen Lelio’s Gloria 2013 ?

  2. Paola says:

    Thank you for your reply ! My essay is in French unfortunately, but as soon as I will traduce it, I will send you it ! I know that in Cassavetes’ Gloria, the question of age is not very evident, but my researches tried to show that it talks about that, implicitly. I saw on your blog your text on Le Chat, what a wonderful movie with two of our most greatful actors in France ! I didn’t see Lelio’s Gloria, unfortunately. Was it good ? Yesterday, I saw Fedora by Billy Wilder , it’s very interesting about age, too !

    • rinaross says:

      Je parle le Francais , donc inutile de traduire se ce n’est que pour moi. I carry on in English because the automatic text correction is impossible to switch off.
      I am so glad to meet somebody who knows Fedora. Another neglected film, I love it . Is the DVD available in France? I do recommend Gloria.
      Best wishes on your studies.

  3. Paola says:

    Super ! ( je vous réponds en français mais vous pouvez écrire en anglais, je comprends parfaitement!) Donnez-moi votre adresse mail, comme ça, je vous envoie mon mémoire!

    Fedora est disponible en DVD en France, heureusement, avec un documentaire sur le film (interview de Marthe Keller etc…) c’est un très bon film, j’hésite d’ailleurs à faire mon mémoire de l’année prochaine sur les différences Fedora/ Sunset Boulevard !

    Je verrais Gloria et je vous dirai ce que j’en pense! Merci pour tout et continuez ce blog, très intéressant!

    A bientôt,


  4. rinaross says:

    mon adresse rinaross@mac.com

  5. Julie says:

    Bonjour Paula,
    J’ai consacré une partie de mon mémoire de maîtrise au film Opening Night aussi. Je serais curieuse de lire ton mémoire! Est-il en ligne sur le site de ton université?

    • rinaross says:

      Hi Julie, I am just viewing Opening Night. Is it possible to read your dissertation? What is your university ?

      • Julie says:

        Dear RIna,
        I’m sorry about this late reply. The dissertation is still unavailable on my university website, but I will send it to you via email.

      • rinaross says:

        Dear Julie, I will be delighted to receive your dissertation on email. Have you heard form Paola?

  6. Paola says:

    Bonjour Julie,

    Mon mémoire est disponible à mon université mais uniquement sous format papier. En revanche, je peux vous l’envoyer. Pouvez-vous également m’envoyer le vôtre? mon adresse: paola.dicelli@gmail.com !

  7. Paola says:

    Bonjour Rina,
    Il y a plusieurs mois, je vous ai envoyé un mail avec mon mémoire sur Gena Rowlands. Vous m’aviez dit que vous le regarderiez. N’hésitez pas à me faire un retour si vous l’avez eu…
    A bientôt,

    • rinaross says:

      Dear Paola, I am sorry to have by passed your dissertation. I have had a rather hectic few months with all sorts of duties and obligations and have had to go back in my archives to find your attachment. Thanks for replying to my query. At the moment I am looking at Depuis Qu’Otar est parti… an amazing woman’s film. Would you email me if there are any interesting seminars or conferences on the subject of old women and films that I can attend in Paris? Best wishes with everything you are doing rina

  8. Paola says:

    Chère Rina,
    Ne vous excusez pas, je comprends parfaitement.

    Je ne connaissais pas le film dont vous parlez mais je vais m’y intéresser. A vrai dire, je m’intéresse davantage aux femmes jouant des rôles d’actrices vieillissantes (type Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson ou Gena Rowlands). Je pourrais vous faire lire mon nouveau mémoire, de cette année, si vous voulez.
    Malheureusement, la question du vieillissement au cinéma en France n’est que peu traitée, et c’est pour cette raison que mon sujet de recherche, avec my “director of essay” a des possibilités de visibilé. As we say in english, I will let you know about it, it would be a pleasure to see you.
    Merci pour tous vos encouragements et à bientôt,

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