HOTEL SALVATION (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War (2002)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To my followers

To my followers: Thank you for the  comments on my last blog encouraging me to carry on writing about films and old women. 

By a curious coincidence I found the real reason for my weariness. It is not only the oppressive heat that made me feel that my blog was self indulgent. I have been following Ronnie’s blog (Time Goes By <ronni@ronnibennett.com>) for a long time and found so much to comfort and enlighten me. A day after my last blog I read in hers :  

 

 So I think that although for 15 years this blog has been dedicated 100 percent to an ongoing conversation about “what it’s really like to get old,” something else too big and too serious to ignore also needs our attention.

……

Most of all, I have come to believe this because if I continue in these pages to ignore our unprecedented political predicament, I then am complicit with the culture at large I regularly denounce for sidelining old people by ignoring them, dismissing them and removing them from the public stage.

Yes this is exactly how I feel Ronnie. Thanks. 

  

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SUMMER REFLECTIONS on films featuring old women.

Too hot to think clearly. Too hot to sit for a long time looking at the screen.

Too hot to remember the times spent talking about ageing and films. The laughs and  heated discussions.   My friends long departed.

Is it time to close the chapter? Say goodbye to wordpress and muse isolated?

Films about old women featuring old actors are more frequent now and I find it difficult to keep pace. But I must check something before I say goodbye.

I have rarely looked at the statistics of viewers of my posts in my film blogs. Somehow I did not think it mattered. I just wanted to express publicly  the view of an old woman fully aware that I have at times extreme points of view.

I just looked at the number of views on my  site. Volver 14 267, All About Eve 2522, Pather Panchali, 1382. These figures are to be expected: classic films attract students of films and give them an old woman’s point of view.

It is the films with views in the hundreds that made me change my mind. The     neglected  forgotten films, the ageist films, the denigrated films. Above all the films that provoke old women reactions that differ significantly from reviewers and some academic writings.

Maybe I should not give up yet.

 

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FILMS – DEMENTIA – LOCAL CINEMAS

Cinememories at the Phoenix

There are many films about dementia. Most of them are documentaries but there are also more or less  accurate and enlightening feature films with famous actors. 

I came across an inspiring project in London: the use of films to entertain and relieve isolation of people with dementia. 

The Phoenix Cinema (East Finchley) organises with the help of the Alzheimer’s Society twice a month ‘dementia friendly’ screenings. They have shown  mainly musicals : My Fair Lady, Pal Joey, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 42nd Street. 

In the interval a facilitator who runs Singing for the Brain sessions for the Alzheimer’s Society leads the singing over refreshments. 

These screenings attract a bigger audience than many other ‘special screenings’ at the Phoenix. It is true that the Phoenix is a registered charity but our local independent cinemas who see themselves as serving the community do not even bother to provide facilities for the hard of hearing. 

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AFTER LIFE (2008)-2 . Social realism.

Having looked at Kore-eda’s (K-E) exploration of some aspects of memories in After Life (1998) I am left with an insatiable need to investigate the content of these memories. It is a difficult task to unravel the documentary from the invented in this complex film. The reviews on the whole have not helped me to get to what I am looking for. Ebert says that the director interviewed ‘hundreds’ of people, (Garcia claims 500) but that some interviews were scripted. I need to go back to the interviews of K-E to get to understand what he tried to achieve in this mixture of documentary and invention and try to isolate threads of social realism.

To Peter Bradshaw when asked how he reacts when compared to Ozu: I try to say thank you. But I think that my work is more like Mikio Naruse – and Ken Loach.

To Jonathan Romney in the Guardian: It is that in the East we’re not familiar with the idea of judgement after death – I wanted to reflect that…

It seems to me that in the film young Iseya reflects the director’s voice. He is excited by the fact that people are not judged after death, he is critical of having to choose only one memory to take to eternity and question the truth of memories. He expresses the thought that films reveal more truth than memories. The whole set-up is wrong because one makes the past for one’s own needs….Say I construct the future I am making a film about it. As I imagine all kinds of situations, I think that what I create would feel more real than some memory.

Also K-E in a Guardian interview declares: If you can’t choose, it means that you are still alive. Choose, and you’re dead. Iseya says: not choosing is that you take responsibility for your life. And also Watanabe: it comes to me that not choosing might be one way of taking responsibility.
I will leave aside the above complex questions about the initial premise of the film of choosing one memory to take to eternity, the way it compels the viewer to engage personally with the film and the relationships between reality and fiction. I will also ignore the cinematography that makes the film eminently watchable and transports it into fantasy. I will concentrate on the elements of social comments and relationships.

Sex:
There are many references to sex in the film. At the beginning of two of the weeks two helpers on their way to work talk about their job. (Only their feet climbing stairs are shown.)
First Monday: This old man Yamada, all he talks about is sex …. Three days of that stuff , give me a break…He spent the three days talking about sex and finally chose a holiday with his wife .

Second Monday: This old man Shioda after all that talk, talk, talk, about all these women chose his daughter’s wedding when she’s handing her parents the bouquet.
Shioda talks at length about the way to obtain the good looking women in a brothel. But he also talked about a prostitute who prepared for him a restoring porridge when he was ill: one remembers such a woman .

Advice to the young female helper: After all that time I spent with him. All that talk was just embarrassment. When old guys like that get assigned a young woman they go on about sex.The trick is to never get embarrassed.

The prostitute:
Here we have a comments on women’s view of sex. When you have been treated so badly you swear there will never be another man again. I swore I would not but then someone is kind to you … He was not the kind of man who only remember his own needs. She then invents a wonderful time together only to admit under questioning: The truth is he never showed up .

Child Abuse?: Not enunciated but clear enough. Say I chose a memory from 8/10 years old. Then I’ll only remember how I felt back then…I’ll be able to forget everything else? …Is that true? you can forget … Well then that really is heaven.
Round the table staff meeting: He chose a memory of when he was five of his secret hideaway filled with junk. He wanted to choose the darkness. He must be burdened with a past that the cannot talk about to anyone.

Absent father: The reference to an absent father is less obvious but can be inferred. After the teenager talks to Shiori about her recollections of having her head on her mother’s lap for ear cleaning, she asks if Shiori has similar memories. It is difficult to determine whether Shiori’s response is invented or a memory: I remember how my father’s back felt so broad and firm and the smell of his sweatband and how his hair tonic smelled. But at the staff meeting she storms out of the room when remonstrated: How did your parents raise you exactly? She replies: like your daughter, that’s what happens when you don’t know your dad.

Ageing : One of the old women seems very confused. Her memories are all mixed up in time and place involving love of her brother, dance halls, dancing, red dresses, red rice, ice cream and chicken.

Nishimura the older person: She presents another view of old age. On the strength of Kore-eda’s father having suffered dementia, commentators often describe her as being demented. In the staff meeting: It seems Nishimura san already chose her memories while she was still alive…she lives in her memories from being nine. She appears to me at peace with herself. She stands at the window listening to birdsong and comments : In the spring time it must beautiful here. Do the cherry trees blossom?
Bent double she collects dead leaves, seeds and little stones that she arranges carefully on the interview table. (Is this different from the artist Tacita Dean’s exhibits of her collection of leaves and stones?). She respond by an imperceptible nod that she has no children. She offers her helper the contents of her plastic bag with a smile.
Dementia or at peace with the past and living with nature in the present?

Food as comfort: As I remarked in my first blog on this multi themes film the interviews of a variety of people in the first hour give the film a realist feel. Main public events: the war, a major earthquake both are associated with comforting food. The mother making rice balls in the grove after the earthquake is referred to both in the telling and the reenactment when the staff participate in the food preparing. The account of the enemy American soldiers giving food to the captive starving Japanese soldier is detailed. There is a long discourse on the cooking of rice porridge cooked specially by the prostitute for her ailing client. However in the second part of the film we see Watanabe watching one of the videos of his life. He is sitting down absorbed in reading and moving papers without even glancing at his wife while she serves him a meal. Considering the other representations of food as social interaction this clearly shows the indifference of Watanabe to his wife.
Finally a few of the people interviewed remember their early years showing the interest of K-E in family and children as demonstrated in My Little Sister and After the Storm and others.

The settings, mise-en-scene, and editing permit a move to the fantasy second part of the film and a narrative. There are re-creation of the memories, the projection in a cinema and consequent disappearing people. K-E also introduces the reflections on different points of view: how beautiful the moon is tonight. The moon is fascinating isn’t it?. Its shape never changes yet it looked different depending on the angle of the light.
The narrative adds another layer. The young Shiori is in love with her fellow worker Mochizuki killed in the war. While watching Watanabe’s life tape Mochizuki discovers that the latter had married Kyoko his fiancée.

There is no unpleasant confrontation between Kyoko’s two partners. In a letter before he disappears having choosen a memory Watanabe thanks Mochizuki for not discussing Kyoko with him.  Mochizuki  confesses to Shiori that this was not generosity but that it was too painful. Shiori helps him  to find the memory that Kyoko chose and it happens to be when she was sitting on a bench with him (beautiful photo of a young woman and man in uniform):   I looked desperately inside myself for any memory of happiness, now 50 years later, I’ve learnt I was part of somebody else’s memory. What a wonderful  thing.  

But now that Mochizuki has decided to choose a memory to take to eternity and leave. Shiori is very hurt at being abandoned  and especially at being forgotten.

A very inventive K-E offers the viewer a feel good ending. Mochizuki ask for an exception to the rules of the choice. He chooses the time being spent at the centre as his memory thus including not only Shiori but also the tapes of him with his fiancée before his death.

I have tried to explore why I found the film so intriguing. Like everybody I know who has seen the film, like the reviewers I was compelled to think about the only memory I would take for eternity.
I have tried to disentangle some threads in the films and only succeeded in touching part of its social realism, spurred by K-E desire to be compared to Loach. There is so much more to explore and unless I have missed any academic work on the film, I am surprised that the film is not considered as a masterpiece.

 

I was really interested in having people think about what memories mean to us, how people share memories, or the joy you can discover by finding yourself in the fragments of someone else’s memory. K-E

 

 

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THE STRAIGHT STORY at ‘EON’ AND EDIE

A full house again at the Ealing Oldies Network (EON). The Straight Story (1999) elicited an interesting exchange of views. It took some time to discover Lynch’s oblique way of exposing deep issues by visual means, discover Alvin’s back story, his determination, the spirituality of the film but also the specific references to ageing.

Once again I observed how talking about a film just after viewing enriches the experience. One comment triggers another and there is a deeper appreciation of different aspects of the film. Of course this applies specifically to the great films, and the classics.

I am sad to have to say that Edie (2017) released this past week is not a great film. I shared with a woman at the EON’s screening (above) the fact that the two films have important similarities: beautiful filmed settings used as metaphor, a past that is troubling, the unflinching determination to make good this past. The reviews are divided. A reviewer actually declared that it is not a difficult mountain to climb, it can be made in a day. How dense can reviewers be ???

I found the score in Edie poor and irritating and the narrative lacked tension.
But for me at the same age as Sheila Hancock I identified with her throughout. Signs of age were not disguised, her face, the way she walked, the communication with others, her doubts, her fights at every step of the way, her determination. The fact that the actor   actually achieved the climb for the film reconciles me to the film’s weaknesses.

Films about old women’s relationships with young adults . Harold and Maude is quoted enough. But minor films should also be mentioned:
Sheila Hancock Hold Back the Night  (1999)
Joan Plowright Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005)
Julie Walters Driving Lessons (2006)

 

 

 

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AFTER LIFE (1998) Life review

When I started blogging about films and older women in 1999 I was determined to be as thorough in my research and detailed about my analyses in order to be considered more than an amateur reviewer.
At the age of 83 I find that over the years my determination has waned. Last month the “Brent U3A Old People in Film Group” showed Kore-eda’s After Life (1998). I had a DVD copy of the film. In 1999 searching for films about old women I had dismissed it on the grounds that it was not specifically about ageing women. Viewing this very complex film again I found that it deals with many themes. Reviewers tend to concentrate on one aspect or else make very general comments. All point out that it is difficult not to engage with the film.
It is the theme of memory that I want to explore. In the complex mesh of information I will forget for now the mise-en-scene, the editing, the narrative, the love story, the characterisation, the relationships and more importantly the links between memories and film making.

22 people are gathered between life and death in a anonymous, stark, official building. They have three days to choose only one memory to take with them into eternity. The memory will be recreated on film, viewed on screen before they pass on.
3 young men and a trainee woman aged 18 interview the people and facilitate the recall. An older man supervises the process.

By using men and women who died at different ages Kore-eda explores different aspects of our memories. By using facilitators and private interviews he deepens this exploration. Evening meetings of the helpers and their boss permit a sharing of observations and thoughts.

The following is an attempt at gathering some aspects of memory that the director includes in his exploration. Italics indicate quotations from the characters themselves.

Old age and memory : a very old woman seems to have chosen her memory while still alive. She lives in the present enjoying nature and taking with her the memory of cherry blossom.

Warnings about documents and memory: 71 tapes of recorded life are presented to a man who insists that he cannot possibly make a choice in an active but featureless life and needs evidence: they won’t match your memories exactly. Please use them for reference . Watch them as a way of bringing up the past.
The head comments at the staff meeting: that is interesting. Not many people have these documents.

How far back do we remember:
At a meeting the head informs the staff that typically memories go back to around 4 years old. A minority of people report remembering events as far back as under a year. I was 5/6 months lying naked on the futon after a bath. The supervisor also adds that some people remember the sense of security when they were in the womb. If you close your eyes immerse yourself in water, the memory of the sense of security of being inside your mother can help with anxiety and other conditions

What we remember and what we forget: Young woman: Amazing how you forget. You swear you’ll never do that again when labour starts…if that pain stayed with you forever there would be very few brothers and sisters in the world.
The bridge where I met my fiancé after the war. Unaware of people on the bridge. I did not see any of that . It was just the two of us.

What we wish to forget but cannot :
A young man choses a memory of himself at 5 years old in his dark secret hideaway filled with junk. I’ll be able to forget every thing else? is that true , you can forget? well then that really is heaven.

Confused memories : a dominant pink dress, and red shoes dominate a very confused disjointed narrative in different time frames: love of a brother, cafes, youth halls, dance halls, dance and songs, ice cream and chicken.

Youth:
If I had to choose I would say my childhood
I was nine in the earthquake when we had to escape to the bamboo forest.
First day going to kindergarten on a bus
Kindergarten also
Father carrying me on his back and the smell of my father’s sweat and hair
Memory of Disney Land (dismissed later)
Head on mother’s lap cleaning my ears

Physical sensations:
Riding on the tram going to school. The feel of that breeze flowing past my whole body.
She had this little bell on her bag and whenever she walked the bell would ring ding ding. I was in the hall tying my shoes and I could hear the bell that she wore.
Even our sweat did not taste salty
In Disney world: the autumn was not too hot. I could taste the pancake.
The snow at my grandmother’s house, playing in the snow. Surrounded by silence, cold. I remember the sound.
At kindergarten the lunch and hot mojo tea . My tongue remembers it. The memory of a certain taste
Eat when it is still hot. I remember the woman who gave me hot rice pudding when I was ill.
The white washing drying in the breeze, I remember how my mother smelled then and the way my cheeks felt against her lap. She was so soft and warm.
I remember my father back when he was carrying me. It was so broad and firm and the smell of his sweat and how his hair tonic stank.

Sex : Two men did not stop talking sex for three days but then one choose a holiday with wife and the other the wedding day of daughter.

Fictionalising the memory: the prostitute talks about a client who unlike the others was conscious of her needs. He was kind to her and made her feel more than a woman selling sex. When it is shown that she has been lying, she replies: the truth is that he never turned up.

Personal and important public events
Some memories are linked with major public events, war and major earthquake.

Some of the contributions are more than just reminiscences and link memories with film making.

1- the emotionless man who needs a record of his whole life before deciding which memory he would choose.
2- The man who was so definite about his memory of all details of a very special Cesna flight that in the recreation of the event in the studio he behaves as a director.
3- the man on top of a cliff ready to jump but a train passing, a special blue light and a vision of his girlfriend’s and mother’s faces makes him change his mind.
4- the recollection of the man who went into great details about his war adventures. Precise details and a strong narrative, are akin to a scenario .

Finally the questioning young man who refuses to choose and will remain behind. Maybe film maker’s voice ?
One way of not choosing might be one way of taking responsibility.
Do dreams count as memory?
The whole set up is wrong because one makes the past for one’s own needs.
Say I construct the future I am making a film about it. As I imagine all kinds of situations, I think that what I create would feel more real than some memory.

In 1999 I was moved by the old woman gathering dead leaves, seeds, and little stones and displaying them on the table instead of talking about her memories. I did not understand the filming of the shower of cherry blossom. Now that I am often reviewing my past, and talking about my memories to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchild the whole film makes sense to me.
The film’s complex mise-en-scene, narrative, script, editing deserve to be analysed in order to appreciate its deep content:  life and love, feelings, relationships,
and above all coming to terms with the past .

The moon is fascinating, its shape never changes yet it looks different depending on the angle of the light.

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EALING OLDIES NETWORK FILM SESSION

Our March film session at the Ealing Oldies Network was poorly attended due to the snow and treacherous slippery streets. My need to go back home early was imperative. There were only 8 women present and I decided to talk about my research and the history of Old Women in Feature Films groups rather than show the long classic I had planned.

This was followed by a general discussion that was not recorded.

My impression was that some women were very aware of the sexist/ageist bias of the representations of old women as compared with old men.
It seemed to me that there was more awareness of recent films featuring well known actors: (Dench, Mirren, Smith), than pre 2000 films.

A discussion about some specific films was not possible as not everybody had seen the films mentioned by some.

As a general observation I note that there is an enormous gap between academic research about age, gender and representation and the old viewing public ‘s awareness of the issues.

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OSCARS 2018, SEXISM, AGEISM

I have never been enthralled by the Oscar ceremonies and awards and have rarely followed the news about the overinflated and nauseating event.

Yesterday however two links were brought to my attention.

https://www.nextavenue.org/academy-awards-2018-oscars-ageist/

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/photos/2018/03/2018-vanity-fair-oscars-seliger-portrait-studio?

I will not declare that AGEISM and SEXISM is still rife in the film industry so as not to be accused of not acknowledging the events of the last year.

However I do despair.

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VOLVER (2006) Ealing Oldies Network

 

Full house again at the EON : 14 women, 4 men for Volver

A very dense and complex discussion difficult to convey due to the variety of themes summarised here.

Two women had seen the film before.

Two immediate comments were:
– It is only seeing the film for the second time that I appreciated its humour.
– A male viewer saw it as a ‘Greek Tragedy’ and wondered if retribution would follow. Others disagreed.

A question and answer from the floor:
Why is he female character so sexualised the film?
Almodovar initially shows the way women are traditionally perceived (and portrayed): cleaning, cooking, sexual objects, serving and meeting men’s needs. But he also shows the other side, women’s resourcefulness, their solidarity and strength, juxtaposing the two.

Very Colourful : lots of red . Focus on the knife as weapon, first seen during washing-up scene.

Main themes: Mothers protecting children, mother/daughter relationship, family secrets, skeletons in cupboard, incest/sexual abuse, death, superstition/reality. Some thought both murders were ‘crimes of passion’, wind that make people mad, extreme ridiculousness’.
Male characters secondary. History repeating itself – abuse, killing, down the generations.

Secondary themes: plight of immigrants, Russian  emigrees, women’s poverty, private/public spheres, what kept in family ‘washing linen in private’ v disclosing personal stuff to all and sundry on reality television. Demented Aunt Paula’s home – orderly, baking produced, etc.  clue that she not alone in the house!

Film generally very well-received and much enjoyed!

 

 

 

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Note of comments ‘Pather Panchali’ – Ealing Oldies Network (EON) 22 Jan 2018

About twenty attended. One, who had seen it before, found the film engaged her in the same way as when she’d first seen it. Comments, as main themes, were:

Much more than a story: the forest, nature, land, water/the well, the animals; the monsoon, how it was portrayed by water lilies; all entwined; life as a whole. The ineptness of humanity; the role of religion; the train that could be seen but could not be boarded. The pylon, a sign of modern life, symbol of the future. Apart from that, all materials are biodegradable, no plastic.

Importance of family: the affect of poverty on people’s lives, how the family could not leave the village, how ancestry and family history affected current relationshipswithin the familyand within the village.

Aunt Indir’s relationship with her niece Durga is touching-Durga enjoys giving Indirfruit “stolen” from the garden that would have been theirs but wasn’t because Durga’s father Harri believed a villager’s claim that Harri’s brother died leaving debts. Indir’s sister-in-law Sarbojaya struggles to feed the family because Harri, a holy man, is an impractical dreamer who believes everything will work out somehow. She hardly tolerates Indir, Harri’s sister. We see Indir’s full role within the family when her nephew Apu was born andyears laterwhen she tells the children a story about an ogre. Her silhouette on the wall looks scary but we see her independent spirit at work, feeding herself and moving out when Sarbojaya makes her feel unwelcome. Despite her bony appearance and no teeth, Indir’s personality shines through.

Long after Durga dies, Apu discovers the beads Durga was accused of stealing from her childhood play-mates. He throws them into the pond straight away, such is his loyalty to his sister’s memory.

These are relationships that we can relate to, regardless of great differences in circumstances, country, culture and time. The film was set in circa 1947.

One commented that it reminded her of Hansel and Gretel who also lived an impoverished life, making brooms in the woods, who spill precious milk the family can’t afford to lose, while playing. The setting in both stories appears romantic but in both stories there is a “no good” husband and a depressed wife. Someone else said it was like ‘Angela’s Ashes’ (I didn’t catch how, possibly the father’s alcoholism.)

The music: particular melodies used to portray various moods. Fear when the storm tore at the flimsy fabric of the house, raw grief when Harri returns after 5 months absence with presents, including a sari for Durga, whose fragile health failed the fight for life, contrary to the doctor’s prognosis.

Many noticed symbolic details: the dead frog, belly-up; Indir’s water-bowl which rolls away when she dies in the woods; Apu setting off with umbrella and shawl, the “man of the house;” the cow passively chewing and the snake that slithers into the family’s derelict house, at the end of the film, as nature reclaims the land.

Androulla Kyriacou

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Pather Panchali in Ealing

18 enthusiastic people attended the fifth film session of the Ealing Oldies Network (EON): Pather Panchali (1955).

The post viewing session was very lively and everybody participated and shared feelings and thoughts. (Notes not available).
What was remarkable for me is the way Ray’s symbolic language was widely appreciated by all.
A few members were determined to try and see the sequels.

For me Sarbojaya’s expression of grief through the heart rending music was again as powerful as when I first saw the film.

 

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OLD WOMEN AND HORROR FILMS

 

In the 18/01/2018 issue of The Guardian, Anne Bilson examines the Old Woman in Horror Films and coins the word “hagsploitation”.

I admit I have paid no attention to these films in my research. The genre has never appealed to me and apart from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) I was not aware of the significant filmography of this genre since the 60s.

Bilson notes that in this film Crawford was 56 years old and Davis 54.

In a heartbreaking echo of Hollywood’s real-life attitude to its ageing female talent, they’re playing washed-up actors driven mad by their own obsolescence, bound together by self-loathing, agonisingly aware of their vanished sex appeal.

The film was a great success and hagsploitation was born says Bilson quoting many late films with old characters played by Shelley Winters, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine.

After a lull in old women in Horror films Bilson sees a revival of the genre but this time she says:

It’s no longer considered demeaning when a 75-year-old screen legend such as Gena Rowlands plays a hoodoo harridan in The Skeleton Key (2005). Next month, 72-year-old Helen Mirren stars in the haunted-house movie Winchester. And in October, 59-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis will be reprising her role as Laurie Strode in a reboot of the film that made her famous. “

I find it sad that in the gap between horror and costume dramas or terminal superficiality there are not more films like for example:  Alexandra (an old woman point of view about war) , Antonia’s Line (three generations of a family), The Company of Strangers (diversity of experiences), Aquarius (ageing in a changing world) where the old woman is represented in all the aspects of a long life.

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

Just a note to add the above to Ageing Actor category. Also the second film this season for breast cancer to be in the picture. (The other film being Aquarius).

 

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The films of Gloria Grahame

Good at Being Bad: The films of Gloria Grahame.

It is the title of a series  of  films featuring Gloria Grahame showing at the National Film Theatre. Nothing to do with Old Women and Film but I needed  to signal In a Lonely Place,(1950) dir. Nicholas Ray  to people interested in male violence and women.

The information leaflet and the talk in Screen 1 mentioned the  ‘paranoia , distrust and treachery… in the times of the anti red witch hunt ‘ as the background to the film.

I found an interesting study of male jealousy,  violence , the lure of celebrity, the reaction of a woman to violence. In these days when the cover up of the abuse by powerful men in many institutions  – including Hollywood – is  being  publicised it is an interesting film to discuss.

 

 

 

 

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AQUARIUS (2016) partial analysis

In The Greater London Pensioner Association newsletter (October 2017) Judith Olley writes about the Representation of Older People on Film. It is refreshing to read about films from an older person’s viewpoint and I picked up two films that I had missed on their release in London: Aquarius and The Midwife.
Aquarius is an exceptional film about a woman aged 65 who resists a company’s pressure to sell her flat so they can develop the site. I will try to disentangle the threads of the intricate mesh that make of this film a unique exploration of the life of an old woman, Clara. I have to ignore the Brazilian political climate of the times . The sound is important to the director as Clara was a music journalist so I regret not being able to comment on the music and songs. I cannot make informed comments on these important aspects of the film. I just would like to show the way the director/writer exposes the important factors in the life of an ageing middle class woman.

A few general notes:

The titles: as other devices in the film the following titles make the viewer think.
Aquarius is the name of the building Clara lives in and fights for. There are many interpretations that can be used to explain the use of this astrological sign as the title of the film. Given the importance of music for the main character I would favour a link to “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from Hair and the spirit of rebellion of the late 60s.

Clara’s Hair: the first 32 mins of the three-part film is itself divided into two parts. In 1980 at her 70th birthday party Aunt Lucia has grey hair and Clara aged 30 has cropped hair due to chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer that she has survived. In 2015 Clara has impressive luxurious very long, very black, hair. On first viewing this image is puzzling but powerful. Puzzling because it is an unusual and striking image to use in connection with a woman aged 65, specially when compared to the 70 years old Aunt Lucia’s white hair. But it becomes clear that her hair in a bun is her public self but the gesture of letting her luxurious hair down signals connection with her inner self.
Clara’s Love: In this longest section it is Clara’s love of her home and the people she knows that prevail.The scenes last from a few seconds 12 mins .
Clara’s Cancer: Clara battles against the developers who have invaded her space like a cancer.

Changes in the physical environment
The narrative is based on Clara’s resistance to the pressure put on of a development company and other interested people to sell her flat, the last inhabited one in the 40s Art Deco building. Through this narrative Filho looks not only at the political, social and personal background of Clara’s story but makes a strong statement about the importance of the preservation of the past. The changes and time passing in this film reside not only in people but are inscribed in buildings, furniture, music, photos, archives, relationships as well as inner personal recollections and memories.

THE BEACH TOWN 
Aerial black and white stills show the change of the beach town of Recife from low-rise buildings into rows of high-rise towers in 2015. Clara aged 30 in 1980, recovered from cancer of the breast escapes her crowded flat with her brother and sister-in-law. They go for a fun drive, a smoke and private conversation on the sandy beach. In the dark people are playing on the sand.
In 2015 the road is traffic dense and is used by a drug dealer on a bike. There are people jogging and Clara aged 65 takes part in the ‘Yoga laughing’ session with a crowd of people in close physical contact but anonymous. Clara barefoot walks with her nephew and visiting girlfriend and shows how the sewage pipe that divides the poor part of the town from the trendy beach.

THE BUILDING
Seen from the beach the building is pink but will change to blue and then Clara get it painted in expensive white. The building itself has a front space with shrubs and flowers and garages with forecourt. In 1980 the garage forecourt is alive with children playing football but in 2015 there are only two stray cats. It becomes the site of confrontation between Clara and the ever smiling young developer who devises ways of intimidating Clara.

THE FLAT 

Clara brought up her children in this flat. We see the front and back entrances where in 1980 a crowd of people of all ages celebrate a birthday and dance to music played on a vinyl record. People stand and lean around a chest. Fade to 2015 and the flat features a large window with sea view and modern furniture except for the chest of drawers. Clara enters walks and poses facing the window as if on stage. She does her stretching exercises in front of the window and prepares to go out passing the chest and a table with modern style chairs.

We will see all aspects of the flat: front and back doors, the sitting room, the bedroom, the kitchen. We are shown shelves full of books and records, the vinyl record player but also the digital one that the grandchild is taught to use. The hammock where Clara relaxes and the chest.

Intergenerational relationships
Aunt Lucia’s 70th birthday is attended by a crowd of extended family and friends of all ages from babies to old people. The speech about her life achievements in Letters Music and Law, her time in prison is read by Clara’s young children. This is followed by Clara’s husband telling of the hard times in the late 70s when he had to look after the children while Clara was being treated for cancer. A profile close up of Clara with cropped black hair and Lucia with white hair shows the closeness of the two women. We have the feeling that Clara is walking in her aunt’s footsteps as a working and politically active woman. In an interview about her new book Clara instructs two young journalists on the importance of the past. She and her collection of Lps are witness to this. The young ones do not look too interested.
She is also comfortable with the new technologies.

Everyday relationships
In 1980 Clara knows her neighbours. In 2015 she has no neighbours but a jogger she knew as a child accuses her of being selfish. She has for the last 6 years been stopping the old neighbours from finalising the deals with the developers.

Building workers: Clara makes sure that she knows their names and addresses them personally.

Roberval is the lifeguard who looks respectfully after Clara’s safety when she takes her daily swim. She relies on him when she needs support.

Ladjane is the maid who worked for Clara for nineteen years. She knows her employer’s needs and there is a certain closeness between them. Clara acknowledges Ladjane’s birthday and even visits her at her home but when displeased she is short with her. She ignores her in a family recollections session when Ladjane intervenes to show the photo of her son who died in a motorcycle accident.

Female Friends with whom she goes to drink and dance in a nightclub. They are also connected through Ladjane’s sister who works for one of them. Letitia gives her the phone number of a gigolo.

Old time friends
Cleide: Clara’s old times friend a lawyer who helps her to find documents in the town’s archives and defends her against the developers.

Ronaldo: The Editor of a paper that Clara does not read anymore. He explains to Clara the corruption and nepotism that is rife in Brazilian society. He divulges to her that the young interviewer was his niece, that a member of his family is close to the construction company and that even Clara’s younger brother is involved in shady business. He himself is not vulnerable because he knows too much and he tells Clara how to obtain evidence against the company.

Clara’s Family
Adalberto her husband died 17 years ago. Having written something for him, she visits the cemetery but is unable to read it as she is unsettled by a conversation with Diego.
Antonio her older brother: she asks his advice about her situation. It is with his family that Clara recollects her past with the help of armfuls of photos albums. Loss is hinted at in this scene: loss of memory of the thieving maid’s name but also loss of Ladjane’s son mentioned in other contexts.

Clara has three children. Her relationship with them is exposed in the 12 mins long family meeting sequence.
Martin: is mild and smooths out tensions between mother and daughter. His wife and Clara are friends.
Rodrigo is reserved. He is gay but he has not introduced his lover to the family. Clara demands from him to come more often, not only to communicate by electronic means. She would like to know his boyfriend.
Anna Paula divorced, toddler son.  Clara’s relationships with her sons are easy but there is some tension between her and her daughter who still hurts from the neglect she felt when Clara was away for two years. Anna is the one who tries to persuade her mother to sell the flat and expresses worries about her: her comfort and security. Clara is rather harsh with her daughter. Accusations and bad feelings are expressed in two occasions.
Toms and Julia Clara is closest to her nephew. She even expresses maternal feelings towards him. They share the love of music and songs and recommend to each other their favourites. Toms’ new girlfriend has also this interest and it is clear that there is here a rapport between the two generations based on shared interest.
Pedro: Anna’s toddler that Clara is expected to babysit for without   warning. He seems more interested in being introduced to the controls of the record player than looking at books.

Sexuality Although explicit sex scenes have reached the porn networks, they are not prurient. There are glimpses of sex on the beach, of an orgy, and conversations on the subject. But sex is important for Lucia and Clara.
Lucia: at 70 and a widow for the last 6 years. During the speech about her achievements she visualizes love-making on the bed and the chest of drawers (focused on in many shots of the flat). You forgot or skipped the sexual revolution she says and describes how she was the lover of a married man for 30 years.

Clara is not defined by her sexuality but it is part of who she is. On an outing to a nightclub the women gossip and speak openly about sex, casual and ‘professional’ and Letitia encourages Clara to use the phone number of an escort. A widower dances with Clara and offers to take her home. After exploratory kissing in the car the man cannot cope with the fact that Clara had a mastectomy. They separate.
A noisy sexual orgy is taking place in the flat above Clara’s. Unable to sleep she climbs up the stairs and peeps in. Explicit views of sexual activities with multiple partners. She comes down and stimulated, unable to sleep she phones the escort. An attentive young man arrives and she is in control of their coupling. In the morning she appears so contented that when she asks the life guard Roberval for the number of somebody to call in  an emergency he mistakes the request for a pickup line.

Resistance: Clara’s refusal to give way to the construction company is the subject most commented upon in reviews. It is seen as selfishness by some and heroism by others. In terms of screen time the narrative in this spread very thinly. The resistance is situated in a political social setting and rooted in the life course of a woman aged 65.

 The Pressures:
Clara’s daughter: in the family meeting she is the one who expresses her worries about the safety and comfort of her mother. She has visited the developers and Clara feels this was a lack of respect. Her outburst is powerful: So when you like it, it’s vintage; when you don’t like it, it’s old. Is that right? You guys don’t know what it’s like to feel crazy without being crazy and that the madness is out there, don’t you? Another thing that’s really crazy around here is that we’re talking about money.

Roberval: makes her aware that the area is dangerous and that she should be afraid.

The old neighbour accuses her of being selfish.

The Developers: The first meeting with the developers closes the first part of the film. Diego his grandfather and another man with a bunch of keys first appear in the front path and Clara half opens the door to them. They converse as if it is the first time they meet and Clara makes it clear that her flat is not for sale. Diego is conciliatory with a smile and insists gently.

The Harassment: A noisy orgy takes place just above Clara’s flat when there are many other flats available. The stairs are soiled with smelly faeces. Eventually cleaned. Diego’s car is parked in front of Clara’s garage. Mattresses are burnt in the front yard. A big religious meeting takes place and Clara with the push chair and the grandson are helped up the crowded stairs. Finally Clara who has decided to get the facade of the building painted white is served with legal papers.

The confrontation : Clara approaches Diego as he arrives in the morning and the dialogue progresses from Clara accusations about the burnt mattresses, the noisy party, the dirty stairs to her loss of temper when Diego mentions her children. He had tried to convince her calmly that her staying in her flat is not viable anymore. But she explodes and insults Diego and accuses him and the so-called elite like him to have no character and that they only value money. It is then that Diego reminds her that she had no manners in not asking her grandfather and him into her flat, that she comes from “darker-skinned family …that had to sweat a lot to get what they got”… implying that this what is needed to succeed. She recoils and leaves. This scene occurs in the last 30 mins of the film when the pace of the narrative accelerate and Clara goes on the war path.

RESISTANCE : Clara contacts her old friend, the newspaper publisher, for advice on how to combat the company and is informed of certain incriminating documents concerned with the developers. But he also tells her that his family is connected to them and that even her brother is involved in shady business.
When she receives legal papers about her painting the building facade she involves her old friend the lawyer to help her .

Cancer of the building and accusation: At this point the film takes a less realistic approach. Two of the building workers disclose that they were employed to deliver something to one of the flats. Roberval, Clara’s  brother, her nephew and the lawyer come to the rescue and discover the infestation of termites. The images here are striking and symbolic: networks of marching termites have spread in every room of the flat and they find the primary cancer : the nest.

In the meeting room of the company Clara opens a suitcase and spread the termites all over the meeting table with the words
I survived cancer. More than 30 years ago, you know? And these days, I’ve been thinking about something. I’d rather give you cancer than having it myself.

 

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I tried to isolate the components of the film that show the richness of the factors that makes the life of a 65 years old woman. But I failed as it is impossible in this film to ignore so many other aspects. In particular, Clara’s relationship with her daughter deserves more attention. Clara’s insults when angry. The change of men’s role in Brazilian society: difficulty of divorce for Lucia and home carer for Clara’s husband.
It is impossible to convey how Aquarius reflects the many aspects of ageing without considering it  with its music and political significance.  The acting, the directing, the cinematography also need exploring.
I feel that it deserves a guide to help appreciate its many aspects.

 

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PAULINE AND PAULETTE (2001)

Third film at the Ealing Oldies Network. 

The 18 people present were enthusiastic. They appreciated the film   and the exchange of views at the end was very lively and informed. It was evident that a few had some experience in the issues raised about caring.  It is the third time I present this film to a group of old people and the general thought is that  it should be a film that is generally distributed. According to Lumiere data base,  it counts only 339 564 viewing in the whole of Europe.

Below some notes taken by Marjorie

Notes from film shown on 20.11.2017 at Quakers Meeting House

Sisters were depending on Martha to care for their learning disabled sister. Everything was fine until Martha suddenly dies.

This is a very common problem when the main carer dies. It is also a very general problem in many parts of the world.

There was insufficient communication and planning between the family members. Family not communicating with wider community or making the most of what support might be available in the community.

Peoples attitudes towards Pauline the sister with disability was mainly negative.

Pauline not given the opportunity to learn skills as it was easier and quicker to do things for her such as buttering her bread.

Some tender moments between Pauline and sister Paulette. Paulette lived in a very colourful almost fantasy world of bright colours and her operatic stage life. Pauline always wanted to stay with her sister Paulette. Pauline was drawn to the bright colours and fantasy world of Paulette. When she was with her sister Martha, the house was utilitarian and colours were very drab and her own clothes were dark and old-fashioned. Paulette gave her nice bright clothes and Pauline looked much better.

All the sisters were frustrated with Pauline at different times. When Pauline lived with her sister Cecile, Cecile had an opportunity to see her boyfriend as being self-centered, selfish and impatient with Pauline.

Lady in butcher shop nasty to Pauline.

After Paulette gives up the operatic society, sells her shop and moves to the seaside she comes to realise that she has different values to her old friends. Paulette is facing retirement which is an adjustment for her too. She realizes she is replaceable and no longer important in the operatic society.

Pauline was probably able to do more than she was ever allowed to do if shown and if adjustments were made. Pauline was very innocent in her manner. Pauline helped her sisters to open their eyes and see what is important in the world. Pauline made changes. Her interest moved from flowers to birds. The scene in the care home was very touching. Pauline was able to form a relationship in the care setting she found herself in. Sometimes it almost seemed as though Pauline was able to see through other people.

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AQUARIUS (2016)

 

A film that has probably one of the most fascinating, strong and magnetic female characters in cinema in recent years.
Lucía Ros Serra
Espinof

At the age of 82 I have lived 53 years in our house. The tearoom, craft shop, butcher, greengrocer and baker of the main street have given way to fast food establishments, a betting shop and convenience stores. High rise buildings and a multitude of towers shadow the bungalows and old trees of the quiet streets and the heavy traffic is polluting the air.
Ken Loach’s best films came to mind on my first realising the blend of political and personal insights in Aquarius (2016). But it is the middle class background and a lifetime of changes that resonated with me in this extraordinary complex and rich film.
I must admit that I have to ignore many aspects of this film, in particular the Brasilian political situation and the importance of a music and songs that I am not versed in.

Kléber Mendonça Filho’s treatment of the changes that occur as one ages, the importance of space, time, memories, family relationships, intergenerational friendships, sexuality, dreams, corruption, touched me deeply. In the three parts of this two and a half hour film, he tells the story of an old woman’s resistance to the intrusion in her life of the corrupt housing development project.

I have tried to summarise the narrative, characterisation, cinematography for this blog but every time I consulted the footage I discovered a new fascinating and significant detail. I am longing to do a detailed textual analysis of every aspect of the film.
In the meantime below a limited list of capsule reviews that may encourage my readers to watch this amazing film.

There’s an expansiveness to this film’s intelligence; it has a diffuse narrative focus, bringing in a host of scenes, https://www.theguardian.com › Arts › Movies › World cinemaSonia Braga in Aquarius.

Clara may be the motor that keeps the film’s intricate story turning, but every last cogwheel proves to be indispensable …www.telegraph.co.uk/films/…/aquarius-will-make-you-want-to-move-to-brazil—review…

A nuanced portrait of a badass ladywww.irishtimes.com/…/film/aquarius-review-a-nuanced-portrait-of-a-badass-lady-

Clara, the resplendent 65-year-old protagonist of Aquarius, is destined to take her place among cinema’s most valiant and tenacious …
https://www.filmcomment.com/…/review-aquarius-kleber-mendonca-filho-sonia-brag…

Led by a powerful performance from Sonia Braga, Aquarius uses a conflict between a tenant and developers to take an insightful look at the relationship between space and identity.
Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus.

Sonia Braga plays Clara. She covers a range from sweetly adoring gramma to tough momma with chiding children, from a political beast to a woman longing for physical love. Martha K. Baker KDHX (St. Louis)

A film that has probably one of the most fascinating, strong and magnetic female characters in cinema in recent years. [Full review in Spanish]Lucía Ros Serra
Espinof

A slow-burn battle between a woman and the developers trying to drive her from her home is a melancholy meditation on aging, memory, and family.
MaryAnn Johanson
Flick Filosopher

Clara is a creation that could slot into almost any cultural environment. In every street there’s a woman determined to live life as it should be lived.
Donald Clarke
Irish Times

A drama that’s credible, complex and very satisfying.
Geoff Andrew
Time Out

 

 

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MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937)

It is a pleasure to present a classic film to a group of friends who take the responsibility of all arrangements for the viewing and documentation.. Of the 15 old people present none knew Make Way for Tomorrow but two had seen Tokyo Story . 

Note of comments on film ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’ (director Leo Carey) written by Androulla 

Lots of positive comments.

Not a sentimental film.

One said she wanted the couple to take up the ‘caretaker’ roles together (the job the shopkeeper told Bark about) i.e. a happy ending. This accorded with the request for a happy ending when the film was made; and which the director refused. This audience member thought that the last scene, where the couple’s middle-aged children (‘the siblings’) admit they had behaved terribly, indicated there could have been a change for the better.

Another member said there were some agonising moments which he found difficult to watch, e.g. when characters were embarrassed. I think one of these was the card (bridge) school scene where Lucy was portrayed as a nuisance. He referred to the ending as “bitter-sweet”.

Yet another said the siblings made things worse for everyone by being selfish e.g. the rich daughter, the only one who could have housed both parents, asks for three months to talk her husband into the idea. She didn’t even try and this meant the end of her parents’ life together.

Another said a similar issue had arisen in her family; others agreed it applied to their families too. One gave an example of a parent who had signed away the family home to one of their offspring, only to be taken for granted, while a wiser mother had kept it in her name and was “treated like a queen.”

Someone referred to the opening scene as “schmaltzy” even though this contrasted with the way the subject of inter-family relationships was dealt with in the film.

Another referred to how the car salesman and the hotel manager, i.e. strangers, treated the couple with respect, which contrasted with how the siblings treated their own parents. This member remarked on the complete faith Lucy and Bark had in each other and how the poem at the end showed they had no regrets, despite being separated in their later years.

There were various expressions of how the issues in the film are just as true today, how we identified with the parental couple and how families care for elderly parents in other countries. Also it’s relation to ‘Tokyo Story’ directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

 

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The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)
Michelin Star and Indian spices get together.
or
Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles. Voltaire

I always look at the DVDs on the supermarket shelves to see what is selling. Last month I picked up a cheap one featuring Helen Mirren. I did not know anything about it. What role is she playing at the age of 69?
Absolutely Charming, A perfect feast claims the DVD cover. I put it away to view when mentally tired.

What an amusing 2 hours I spent last night. I will avoid the food language used by some reviewers but I must say that I thought the film was baby food. Every scene of this film was predictable. The characters were stereotypical, the sets idyllic, the cliches abounded. The getting together of the French restaurant owner Helen Mirren and the Indian Om Puri and the two chefs Charlotte Le Bon (French) and Manish Dayal (Indian) provide the love element in this film.
There is more drama in one episode of the TV Master Chef series where diversity of food and people is present throughout than in this feeble fable that lasts two hours. That is if one enjoys food porn.

The claim by some critics and the film makers that it is an anti racism film about tolerance is risible indeed in its naivety and to me offensive.  I imagine that the reason I did not switch the television off was the tolerable acting of the main characters.

 

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MOTHER AND SON Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

I was very surprised when I read Bradshaw’s article a few months ago.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/15/best-picture-oscar-winners-gentlemans-agreement-1947

This  film about anti-semitism is not considered as one of Kazan’s best work and Bradshaw’s choice has been criticised. This is not about  antisemitism or Kazan as a director. It is Bradshaw’s sentence below that interests me here and led me to view the film again.

Finally, after much discussion with his elderly concerned mother (a typecast Anne Revere), Phil has a eureka moment.

Bradshaw’s ageist language offended me. What is an ‘elderly concerned mother’ and in what way is Anne Revere typecast? She is not the caricature of the overbearing, emasculating, long suffering Hollywood Jewish mother (see this blog on Mamadrama (2001). Neither is she Bette Davis’ controlling and repressive mother of Now Voyager (1942) or more recently Michell/Kureshi’s The Mother (2003) dependent, egoistic, masochistic who discovers sexual satisfaction and seeks it at any price. Of course he cannot possibly refers to the many  Mother in Hollywood horror films.

What type is Anne Revere portraying in Gentleman’s Agreement? Far from being or acting ‘elderly’ or ‘concerned’ Revere – 44 years old – offers us a dignified, intelligent, socially aware, strong, assertive, warm, young mother/ grandmother with a sense of humour.
I read that she was nominated three times for an Oscar for her strong, matriarchal figure roles in The Song of Bernadette (1943) National Velvet (1944) and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).
I do not know these films and cannot comment but her role as Mrs. Green in GA is unusual and interesting in its representation of a healthy relationship between mother and adult son.
We see her in the opening sequences. She is tall, elegantly impressive in a flowery dress, a hat and gloves. Her dark hair is swept back and her allure confident. She has been waiting at the entrance of a department store to meet her son Phil and grandson Tommy.

In the previous scenes we have learnt through Tommy’s disclosures to his father that she knows her son very well.“Grandma says you’re getting tougher and tougher to have around the house… she says you’re too picky and choosy …grand ma says you are carrying the world on your shoulders… she wishes you’d leave it alone…..
Her first assertive words to Phil: I just love waiting for people. There’s nothing more fun than waiting for people who are always late. Critical? sure but this is a lighthearted remonstration.
The next appearance of Mrs.Green is at breakfast. Phil is reading the paper and so is Tommy mimicking his father. Mother is preparing and serving the food but not for long. She grabs the papers away from the ‘men’ and sits down to eat and talk with Phil. When Phil is explaining ‘antisemitism’ to his son she remains attentive but does not interfere with father/son relationship until it is time for the child to go to school.
The dialogue between mother and son about the assignment that Phil was given is mutual understanding; Phil is not happy about writing about antisemitism but his mother encourages him and stresses the importance of the issue.

The scene closes with Phil: Wish me luck Mum, I am going to the magazine now. Mother: Good luck I hope its something you want and not far away.
At the door: Phil kisses his mother : You are quite a girl mum.

When discussing the project together Phil uses his mother to express his difficulty of finding an angle to the series. She is encouraging and a good sounding board. At no time does she seem ‘concerned’ .

When she has her angina episode in the middle of the night she needs his comfort and asks him to hold her hand. ( Here we have a very subtle detail: Ma’s hair shows now a big patch of white).  Phil expresses his care for her and reassures Tommy that they will look after her and that she will be fine until you are married and have kids

The next mother and son scene is a pivotal one. Phil expresses his fear of his mother dying and his desire to refuse his assignment:
I was scared Ma – Like I used to be when i’d get to wondering what I’d do if anything ever happened to you. It all came back. I was a kid again and my Ma was sick …I wanted to ask  was it awful, are you afraid. But there are some questions nobody can ask, and they cannot be answered. I‘ll know the answers to those two when I feel it myself,
I‘ll know the answer to those two when I am lying there and that the way it is with the series. Ma: but you got the answers before. Every article you wrote, the right answers got in somehow,
In a very long speech Phil exposes his approach as an investigating journalist. He became a participant in the settings he was researching. It is then that the idea of   being  ‘Jewish for six weeks’ occurs to him.
Ma: its a cinch. this is the best medicine I could have had.
This long scene has the psychological depth of two friends who know each other well discussing a problem and coming to a solution.
Finally I would point out that the end result: Phil’s published hard hitting article about antisemitism, injustice, inequality is read aloud by Mrs.Green. She also makes this militant declaration her own as she says: I suddenly want to live to be very old. I want to be around to see what happens. The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it, and that’s why it’s so troubled.…. Wouldn’t be wonderful if it was everybody’s century when people all over the world- free people – found a way to live together. I’d like to be around to see some of that, even the beginning. I may stick around for quite a while. 

 

Some random thoughts

It is ironical to hear these pronouncements in 2017 when we know that in 1952, at the time of the Hollywood blacklist Kazan gave names to the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities.

It is ironical that 7 decades after the release of the film  we still  live  in trouble times,

It is a coincidence that as I am writing this I see in the 16-22 September  guide issue of the  Guardian an article by Anne Bilson on Hollywoo’s Most Horrific Mothers.

Personally the sentence that resonated with me is:  I wanted to ask  was it awful, are you afraid. But there are some questions nobody can ask, and they cannot be answered. And yet after each civilian casualties and deaths, on our TV screens,  insensitive reporters go around with microphone at the ready and assault the berieved and frightened with these questions.

There is in Phil’s speech   a reference to John Ford’s  Grapes of Wrath  

 

 

 

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SINCE OTAR LEFT (2003)

 

I decided at the end of the U3A year to retire from facilitating the Old Women in Films Group. I found that my energy diminished in sympathy with the attendance.

In the meantime Ealing Oldies Network (EON see June’s blog ) asked me to run occasional film sessions. 15 women and 3 men attended the second film show.
Once again the technology was perfect, and the projector and screen were ready on time.
I had a great feeling of freedom. No longer did I have to worry about the membership or the attendance . I was asked to show a film and chair a discussion. There was implied trust that I would show films worth seeing and nobody objected to my usual decision of not declaring the title in advance.
I chose Bertuccelli’s “ Since Otar Left “(2003).
It needed some background introduction about Georgia and France and about the director. But as is my practice I avoided to make any comment on the content of the film but asked the audience to take note of all aspects the film.
I am always delighted to note how eager people are when invited to share their thoughts and feelings about a film. So different from the usual Questions and Answers of some events. Nearly all the aspects of the film were commented on.

The humour.
The way the music was used.
The way the red colour was used in moments of strong emotions.
The imaginary presence of the main male character in a women’s household.
The range of men’s roles but the focus not on them: the young man with no future, the son gone away, the long suffering partner.
The way the lies of Stalinism go all through the film.

The way the relationships between the three generations of women were conveyed in the first minutes of the film in the cake scene.
How the tensions between the three women were true to life.
The shocking scene of the young daughter confronting her mother in the dasha scene.

I usually expand, explain or reveal some features. A couple of women commented that the grandmother did not react emotionally to the news of the death of her son.
“Surely she had processed the death of Otar beforehand as she did not seem surprised, she must have had doubts at some level”. I pointed out how the cinematography in this case expressed more about her distress than the overacting of usual melodramas.
An interesting example of interpretation differences occurred over the “resilience of grandma when her granddaughter decided to stay in Paris”. Some interpreted it as suggesting that the grandmother was pleased that her son would be replaced. My interpretation would differ. I would have said that she saw in her grand-daughter the continuity of her own love for Paris.
Obviously in a case of this sort, both interpretations are valid as they do not contradict the story or the characters.

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MARVIN’S ROOM (1996): Love and Care

It is the end of the U3A summer term for the U3A Old Women in Film Group.
I had put aside, to consider later, Marvin’s Room (1996) Screenplay by Scott McPherson (1959-1992), based on his own play.

With :
Diane Keaton (Bessie), Meryl Streep (Lee, Bessie’s younger sister), Leonardo Di Caprio (Lee’s son Hank), Hume Cronyn (Marvin, sisters’ father), Gwen Verdon (Marvin’s sister), Robert de Niro (Dr. Wally), Hal Scardino (Charlie)

About :
Multiple family relationships and conflicts, sisters, disturbed youth, terminal illness, bone marrow donors , mental and physical disability, caring and love and more.. There are also farcical, and hilarious interludes.

My first viewing left me puzzled.
I had always resisted the temptation of answering what is it about and who stars in it when asked about a film. I firmly believe that there is no way of summarising a film in a few words and actors can give  good or bad performances. But I needed some help to make sense of the pieces of the puzzle that I could not put together. One sentence kept tugging at my consciousness: At the beginning of the film during a farcical scene at a surgery, Bessie talks to the absent-minded Dr. Wally (de Niro) about her father Marvin
Dad is dying, he’s been dying for about 20 years – He’s doing it really slow so I do not miss anything.
I thought: This is the black humour that only a person who has experienced the complex feelings of watching somebody die would write.
Neither the title sequence with one long travelling shot in closeups of a multitude of medicine containers nor the lyrics of the credits sequences focusing on two sisters’ reconciliation helped me.

I needed to think clearly about the roles of the dying father Marvin and the dotty old Aunt Ruth and consulted the reviewers. A quick search reveals many writings about the very successful play. The New Yorker even reviews a revival of the play in its July 10th – 2017 issue.
There are few critics of the film and they mainly consider the stars’ performances and family relationships.

It is an article by David Richards (Washington Post 05-01-1997) that enlightened me. I think that unless one knows about McPherson’s life, the AIDS epidemic when he wrote the play and later adapted it for the screenplay, it is difficult to interpret the many pieces of the jigsaw that make Marvin’s Room a very interesting film. McPherson died at the age of 33 of the complications of AIDS after years of caring for or being cared for by his companion and lover.
Richards comments: The play’s unique tone, that commingling of deep feeling and black humor, was, he said, merely a consequence of his inability to keep the laughs going. He wrote funny until his energy flagged. Then, he wrote serious.
The screenplay was one of the last pieces he completed, before illness became his full-time occupation and he started referring to himself, jokingly, as a “playwrit.

I will only consider the two old characters. I tend to disagree with Richards when he writes: I don’t know if there’s much to be gained by showing Marvin (a gummy Hume Cronyn), who was an evocative offstage presence — a childish gurgle, really — in the play.

I cannot comment on the play, but I found in Bessie’s care of her father an aspect of caring that is unusual. (She herself has leukaemia and in need of a bone marrow donor. She hopes that her sister Lee or sons Hank or Charlie may be compatible.) Apart from a slight hint of soiled sheets there is not representation of personal intimate care as seen in other films about care like Amour or Chronic . Although Marvin cannot communicate and is helpless lying motionless in bed he shows a capacity for pleasure – mainly sensory pleasures that make him smile in wonder. Bessie understands his needs and provides him with the stimulation of light reflections of a mirror on the room walls and furniture, describes in details the meal she is going to cook for him. She understands that if he puts odd objects in his mouth it is because he likes the way they feel. When she introduces him to his grandson there is an ever subtle hint of a smile on his face and one can imagine that at the end of the film his noiseless mouthing directed at Bessie says ‘I love you, I love you’. Briefly although old Marvin is severely disabled, he is seen as a feeling being.

Auntie Ruth is described by reviewers as silly, spaced out, dotty, eccentric, nearly senile, bemused, funny/sad ailing, has a wacky obsession about watching soap operas. What they do not say is that Verdon gives a wonderfully, touching performance of a likeable, sweet, vulnerable, ineffective beautiful old woman. She shows enormous empathy with people – including TV soaps characters, but cannot cope with the practicalities of life. She may never have been capable of looking after herself. She feels completely lost when she cannot rely on the presence of Bessie. Her inadequacies are very funny and give rise to hilarious, surreal episodes. Her innocence provides the humour in the film but we never laugh at her. Her severe back pain that kept her in bed is cured by electric stimulation of her brain. But the side-effect of this is that the garage door opens when it is activated. Side effect indeed.
In two long sequences of mins 35 and 2mins 22 the interactions of Bessie and Ruth go from the funny to the heartbreaking. In the first Bessie comes back from seeing the doctor having left Ruth to look after Marvin. Ruth has been watching TV and has not given Marvin the pills he has to take at regular times. She gives the excuse that it is because of her brain stimulator but Bessie replies the excuse used to be her back pain. Ruth: Stupid me – I am so useless. She breaks down at the realisation of her own failings but proceeds to tearfully express her fears and anxieties: what if he dies? Bessie reassures her. The mood lightens up when Ruth notices the plaster on Bessie’s arm (blood sampling) and proceeds to offer her useless funny medical advice for her ‘deficiency’. She also volunteers to make soup. Both gestures are gallantly refused by Bessie who knows that they would be more trouble than help.

In the second sequence showing a descent from laughs to tears the scene is a hospital bed where Bessie is recovering from radiotherapy treatment for leukaemia. Ruth tries to suggest to Bessie ways of dealing with being confined to bed. With wonderful facial concentration she comes up with ‘sleep… or… lay awake’. The comic mood continues when she describes how she conceals from Marvin the presence of a nurse in place of his daughter as carer. The skill of the screenwriting and the wonderful acting makes the viewer visualise a surreal hilarious scene. This turns to tragedy when Ruth is told off by Bessie for concealing the truth.Then a crying distressed desperate Ruth asks how else could she explain to Marvin that his little daughter is dying.

In a one minute scene with Ruth, it is the warm relationship between her and Charlie (Lee’s younger son) that is shown. They are sitting face to face and they talk about the TV soap while Charlie is busy putting the last touches of make up on Ruth’s face. She already looks beautiful with a tiara on her white curly short hair, earrings and necklaces.. She looks at her face in the mirror and is delighted what a good job. Lee enters and the beautician in her admires and sees her aunt in a new light: You look beautiful
Ruth: I am not. I am just a silly old woman getting dressed up for a TV show.
Later, a short clip shows young boy and great-aunt enjoying together the drama of a TV soap.

I have only considered the old characters in this piece but the film deserves more attention. I feel it is suffused with McPherson’s sensitivity and compassion:
We all take care of each other, the less sick caring for the more sick… At times, an unbelievably harsh fate is transcended by a simple act of love, of caring for one another. By most we are thought of as dying. But as dying becomes a way of life, the meaning of the word blurs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make Mine Mink (1960) at the Ealing Oldies Network meeting.

I was asked by the Ealing Oldies Network to show them a film and lead the following discussion. EON is a friendship group of old people who meet locally every Monday. It is self organised, people share their knowledge and plan their activities.
I was pleased to be asked but wondered what film I would choose not knowing the members of the group or how many would attend. I felt that I would leave the great classics for later if enough members showed interest in this activity. I was delighted that 12 people turned up for the session, and pleased to see that the technical facility was all sorted out.
I chose Make Mine Mink (1960) taking the risk of some people not appreciating farce.

The following notes were taken by two members:

Most enjoyed it and laughed out loud
A few objected to the sexist stereotypes and some pointed out that men were also stereotyped.
Enjoyed the nostalgia
One person did not, it reminded her of watching similar comedies with her mum and dad and found it very sexist, especially at the beginning, she preferred the later part of the film when the action started
One person noted that the screenwriter Michael Pertwee was the brother of John Pertwee actor in Dr. Who
The old people in the film were bored and came to life when they started their actions, one identified with that feeling and would like to set up a “Spontaneous Action” group (laughs all round)
It was fun, usually there is a lot of negativity about old people, here it was refreshing
The mother next door was made to be a fool

We went on to have further debate about  how , in recent years older woman are having more significant and stronger roles in film. We talked about Judi Dench in the Bond film, Maggie Smith in “The Van”. We also had a discussion on “Iris”, the film about Iris Murdoch and agreed that it did not depict her whole life, her life as a writer and an intellectual was not portrayed, just her early life and her life after dementia. We wondered was this because her husband John Bailey wrote the
book on which the film was made.

It was obvious that the members of EON enjoyed sharing their feelings and thoughts about the film as they expressed that they would like more sessions. I look forward to introducing them to the often neglected ‘classics’ about old people.

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WOMEN AND WAR FILMS.

Delighted by Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest (2016), and intrigued by Sue Harper’s 1996 description of Great Day (1940) as a masterpiece, I attended the BFI for the screening of GD and two ‘shorts ‘ in the British Women and WWII Cinema series.

GD is an interesting feel good film about the Women Institutes during the war. The driving force was the preparation for a visit of Mrs. Roosevelt. My immediate thoughts were to note the unusual representation of the few men, and the absence of war in this war film. I automatically thought of the later (1942) Went The Day Well , its violent images, the active role of women and the brutalising effect of war. GD is certainly worth studying as an all-women film, the spread of actors’s ages, the class element, and Flora Robson presence.
It is worth putting it on the list of older women in films.
I found the two shorts Choose Cheese (1940) and They Also Serve (1940) fascinating. Both were directed by Ruby Grierson. They show such potential in a woman director who is not as well known as her brother and who died tragically at the age of 36 on a torpedoed liner. They Also Serve, shows the daily routine of an older woman going about caring for her household, friends and neighbours. My first thought was “ what a shame that the significant  contribution to society of  the older woman needs a war to be recognised” .
(http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/561579/ )

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TOKYO STORY – film group responses

The film group ‘gut’ responses to Tokyo Story. The general discussion brought out many more subjects and comments. The overall impression was that the film was very relevant to our times.

  • Sadness on the part of the father- just realising what he has lost. Anger with shige
  • and her husband for their ‘carlessness’ of their parents and their offishness.   Noriko is kind to her in-laws and probably did not have a happy marriage. The harshness of the New Tokyo. The opposites of the timescales of the lives of parents and children.
  • Utterly beautiful . So true and universal. Moving and tough -provoking. Unforgettable.
  • The often disconnections of family. Excellent black and white photography.
  • Perfect depitcion of the intricacies of family relationships. Touch of King Lear about it in that the daughter -in-law was the nicest of the children.
  • tradition and modern dress. Figures placed deliberately hierarcally.
  • Lyrical film with great expression of deep emotions both positive and negative, mainly conveyed by facial and body language. The film depitcts real intimacy between Noriko (the daughter-in-law wife of the dead son) and the mother, very tender poignant scenes. The hand of the auteur can’t be missed in the long shots , the sudden insertionf of industrial scnes. The music is western but totally appropriate.
  • Very moving and philosophical on old age, children’s lives and work taking them far away to Tokyo, leaving little time or space (work/own children) for caring for their children. Loneliness all bearable when the older couple had each other.
  • Shows selfishness opposed to duty. Sadly the need for the parents to thank their children for taking care of them.
  • Sad reflection on post industrial societies. The attenuation of family ties. The need to move to the cities for work and the perception that there  no time for the older generation is a sorry thought.

 

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ON FILM STILLS, CLIPS AND REVIEWS

I recently obtained access to an academic library. Having a little time on my hands I decided to explore the subject of the representation of older women in films. The first article I came across is from Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures (2015). Lucy Bolton’s chapter The Intertextual Stardom of Iris: Winslet, Dench, Murdoch, and Alzheimer’s Disease, delighted me. At long last a paper that asks the right questions about a whole film and not an isolated part of it. After a detailed analysis of all the aspects of the film she asks:

At the forefront of this is the matter of whose perspective is being shown and whose voice is being heard. Then there is the question of which elements of the woman’s life are foregrounded – biographical, psychological, or intellectual – and whether the camera’s gaze is a pathologizing one. Iris grimly illustrates how a star persona can be hijacked by a social concern or cultural preoccupation.

Things have changed while I was not looking. When I started being interested in the representation of old women in films the research literature was sparse. Some images and scenes were used to illustrate an argument or confirm a film theory, and there were generalised statistics about old women stereotypes.
Although Bolton addresses a specific film about a writer and philosopher and celebrity actors, the questions she asks can be applied to all films featuring an old woman. Had we had these questions in mind, I think that our discussions in the film group would have been much richer.
Notes on a Scandal
I remember clearly coming out of seeing the very popular and well reviewed Notes on a Scandal feeling disturbed by its sexism and ageism. A member of the film group was also there. She said “I loved it”. I retorted “don’t you think it was ageist?” Her reply is one that I often hear : “but there are people like that”. I did not write about Notes on a Scandal but referred to Daphna Baram in the Guardian who expressed my feelings better than I could.

When the members of the film group worked on the paper British Films 1997-2006 we all found The Mother and Notes on a Scandal profoundly misogynistic and ageist. But we differed on Iris. Some women thought that the very good exposition of Alzheimers disease was all the more tragic affecting a writer and thinker. Other women thought that the film contrasted the young Iris Murdoch with the old Iris without stressing her life as a writer and philosopher.

I think that Bolton’s questions applied to the highly popular films featuring an old woman: The Mother, Iris, Cloud Nine, MidAugust Lunch, Le Week End, would give us more understanding of ageing and ageism issues than the adulating reviews about the old woman ‘still doing it’ of The Mother and Cloud Nine.

A film image, clip, sequence isolated from its context can support a variety of contradicting arguments. Reviews, often sexist, prime us to look for the features described and we dismiss important elements of the film. To be critical of the representation of old women in film it is most important for old women viewers to ask:

– whose perspective is being shown and whose voice is being heard?
– which elements of old women lives are foregrounded
– what do the mise-en-scene, the camera gaze, the dialogue, the music express?
– what do the critics and reviewers say.

– Does the film challenge or collude with the general sexism/ageism of the industry? 

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Grief and Guilt -The Straight Story and Manchester by the Sea

Again a brief post that does not deal with the representation of old women in feature films but since I wrote about The Straight Story (1999) 5 years ago  I will consider Manchester by the Sea (2016).

I find I have no time at the moment to analyse these two remarkable films and compare and contrast them. I remarked on my blog about Chronic how the back story of the main protagonist is redundant, irrelevant and manipulative. The two films above demonstrate how good directors, Lynch and Lonergan use the same back story to produce great films.

In both we have a man who lives with the grief and guilt of having been responsible for the death of own grandchild /children.  In SS the man is old and terminally ill, disabled by age and lives with his daughter whose children are in care. In MBS the man is young estranged from his wife. In both films the natural environment beautifully filmed is part of the story. In both films the reason for the tragedy is the abuse of alcohol  by the grandfather (and or his brother  – here there is ambiguity in the Lynch film)  and in  MBS alcohol and drugs. In both films children die in a burning house and this is of extreme visual emotional power.

What interest me is the differences between the two films:

1-  The way the memory of the burning house is expressed in the two films:  Lynch deals with the loss of control and powerlessness that the grandfather felt, while flashbacks take us to the father looking at the actual event in MBS.  They deserve detailed analysis.

2- The differences between the young man and the old man of lived grief and guilt about a past tragic event.

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