SWEET BEANS (2015)

I have been unable to attend the Brent U3A Film Group for a while but did manage it this month and saw Sweet Bean (2015). I had missed it at London Film Festival three years ago and looked forward to it. 

It was greatly appreciated by the members of the group for its subtlety, its gentleness, and its emotional impact. 

Unfortunately I did not engage in its ‘sweetness’. I found the pace too slow, the many close-ups interminable, the references to the connections between cooking and nature repetitive and was underwhelmed by its shots of the famous Japanese cherry blossom flowering season.  

I found the narrative and the choice of the three characters as outsiders contrived: The teenager in conflict with her family, the young man in debt and ridden with the guilt of disabling a person in a fight and the old woman in a leprosy colony. 

The most interesting aspect of the film to me was the fact that Tokue at 76 years of age was living in a leper colony and that the stigma of the disease was still strong. The film seemed to be contemporary. 

Reading around the subject I am informed that Japanese laws about the segregation of people with leprosy were  passed in 1907, 1931, 1953 and only abrogated in 1996.   

The film did not touch me emotionally but made me think of the different reasons for the three characters’ isolation. In the teenager, the conflict with her mother seems common place. The young man’s guilt at the consequence of his drinking and violence was more interesting. But it is   the old woman’s story that shocked me and stimulated me to know more about leprosy, the cruelty of segregation and prejudice until late in 20th Century in Japan. 

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Ali Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Fear eats the soul at EON (1974)

Attendance at the film session was 25 this month. Unfortunately my voice recorder failed me and I am unable to report objectively on  the very astute, lively, animated  contributions. All the aspects of this  fascinating film were addressed and reflected its complexity: its relevance today, the isolation of the old and immigrants, our inner prejudices, cultural differences, objectivation of man’s body, the cinematography, the need to belong and more. 

Do have a look at the two posts dated October 30th and November 14th 2016 

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, Ageism, audience responses, classic, Film Analysis | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Your Feet (2018)

Two films about old people attracted my attention this week: Finding Your Feet (2018) and Eternity And A Day (1998). I had seen the latter 19-20 years ago but I only remembered the two characters : an old man and a little boy. Putting this 2hours+ Greek film aside I viewed Finding Your Feet with my partner on DVD at home.
With such a cast (Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Joanna Lumley, Timothy Spall, David Hayman) we wondered how it escaped, on its release (2018), my keen eyes (and my friends’ who follow films about old women.)

In spite of the more or less favourable reviews we were bemused by the dullness of this film. I was specially stricken by the feeling of being patronised without being able to fault the acting. My partner dismissed the film as a confection created by following a recipe with characters he did not believe in and a cliché narrative. I needed to go to the source of my discomfort and viewed the interviews with all the people responsible for this concoction.

In the first instance I perceived Joanna Lumley as an actor who with little spare time condescended to appear briefly in a film about old people. I was struck by the close-ups of her face and lack of depth of character. At the time Lumley was 72. There was not a wrinkle, a fold around the eyes, the mouth, the neck. In her interview there is a tinge of ‘me and them’ attitude.
The rest of the cast was more believable mainly due to the actors who knew each other well, had previously acted together and projected their friendly relationships onto the screen. While the actors all aged 60+ demonstrate in their own lives and interviews no ageist attitudes, the characters and narrative were not more than clichés after clichés about old women, I guess directed at an older audience.

It is in the interviews with the writers (Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft) both aged 40 that I found this ageist outlook. The two main female characters are two estranged sisters and the film shows how they get together. The older sister, Bif, lives the care free life of what can be described as a ‘hippy’. She has a male friend Charlie who has sold his house to finance a care home for his demented wife. At the beginning of the film Sandra the younger sister discovers that her husband, recently knighted,  had an affair with her best friend for the last five years. She leaves him and take refuge with her sister in a council flat. In cliché after cliché, including a trip to Rome, a dance performance, Bif dies, and Sandra joins Charles. The dance class and performance of a group of old people is the subject of many commentaries in reviews.

I just wonder why the DVD includes interviews of all the contributors responsible for this film and their comments on the characters, their back stories, what happens to them and details of the production. Is it aimed at school students of film studies? Or to be more controversial to educate the presumed target: Old People audience?  

Comments by the writers:
Characters: Sandra: She is the classic woman behind every great man. She is waiting for retirement for a life to begin. It is the universal story of women waiting – losing their identity and waiting to reinvent themselves when they are non longer needed to support everyone else.
Bif: maverick bonviveur she doesn’t care what other people think.

The feel good romance : : we had a lot of fun with that. The classic references : Adam’s Rib, Bringing up Baby, It’s as Good as it gets.

What they hope audiences will take from the film: maybe they will question their lives maybe take a risk themselves maybe do something brave “it is that pottery class that you do not want to go to maybe because you are shy or … It does not have to be dance specific. It is inspiring….

There is no doubt that there is more evidence in the extended interviews on the DVD that the film was conceived as a feel good film about old people. The producer asked what attracted her to the project: its primary focus on people of a certain age….. but actually it reaches far more than that … the message about a leap of faith, giving life a second chance. The director: ….. better to jump of the cliff and keep running and keep going and have some passion.

It seems to me that the film was conceived as a film with a message. A message to old people, a feel good film about old people, for old people and I tend to agree with the review in Bouquets & Brickbats, 1st March 2018
Viewers can easily tell the difference between a genuine story and a marketing exercise. With Finding Your Feet I simply cannot escape the feeling that behind all those light-hearted escapades lurks a mean-spirited attempt to part older viewers from their money – and try as I might, I can’t quite forgive it for that.

  • For films by numbers see Oct 12. 2012 post in this blog Hope Springs: Instruction manual
    For Old Women at work example see: Celia Imrie was filming during the day and  appearing in King Lear with Glenda Jackson at night
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Eat, Drink, Man, Woman – Chu

Eat Drink Man Woman (referred to as EDMW) is described by the majority of reviewers as a film about a clash between Father and Daughters, between Tradition and Modernity. Few have commented on Chu as an old man. EDMW is structured like a large puzzle composed of many small puzzles each one complete and each one having a special theme. What I am looking at in this post is the Old Man theme.  Chu has been a widower for the last 16 years and has three adult daughters who live with him.  Chu Jia-Jen – the eldest (D1), Chu Jia-Chien – the middle (D2), Chu Jia-Ning (D3) – the youngest. 

Chu the Master chef: is established in the credit sequences when he is seen cooking for the ritual family lunch in his kitchen. This kitchen intrigued me when I first saw the film. It does not have the character of a home kitchen or a restaurant. It is really a way of conveying how expert Chu is in his skills.  30+knives and cleavers hang on the wall, the table is laden with a variety of containers from cooking vessel, to beautiful serving plates. Stewing pots, frying pans are evident. In the yard earthenware from small to very large, hanging lengths of onions, herbs and the chicken fill the space.

In this environment we see Chu using many ways of preparing and cooking a variety of food. He catches a live fish from its bucket, descales it, fillets it, flours it, fries it. He gets hold of a chicken in the coop, under the eyes of a group of frogs, and then through a complicated of steps cooks it and arranges it in a china serving plate. The speed at which he slices meat or vegetables, the rapid stuffing of parcels is fascinating. A scan of the wall shows a series of professional photos testifying to the many different stages of his career. More than a man cooking a meal for his three daughters, this montage demonstrates all the skills needed to achieve the title of Chef that we realise Chu has attained.
This is confirmed by an urgent call for him to rescue a situation at the restaurant where he is the Chef. He leaves everything and rushes out. We are then introduced to a restaurant with an  impressive number of tables, and a huge kitchen with a crowd of busy staff.  He is greeted by a rather agitated maitre d’hotel who helps him put his chef’s uniform and implores him to save the day. A group of cooks and Old Wen chef gather around listening with respect to his instructions on how to repair the mistakes.  The maitre d’hotel is relieved.  

Chu’s friend: Old Wen is a family friend and permits Chu to express himself freely.  When a young kitchen assistant is rude to Chu it is Old Wen who restrain Chu from reacting aggressively. Over a drink Chu declares that he hopes  that the daughters leave home so he can have a quiet life. He is depressed, his sense of taste is getting worse and worse and he quotes: ‘your appetite is done when the dish is done. Eat, drink, it pisses me off.  Is that all there is in life?’   Old Wen replies with another saying : Good sound is not in the ear, Good taste is not in mouth and good sexGod knows where ……When Old Wen dies Chu is devastated and with D2 takes care of the last rites.

Chu’s role as Father:  In the mornings after his daily jog he is seen waking up the three daughters. He does the cooking, the washing up, the laundry. He even puts their clothes away though not always to the right sister. He cooks the Sunday lunches that he considers as a ritual to be preserved for the three daughters.  The table is laden with mouth-watering dishes and everybody shares. He does not talk much but is very  sensitive to the slightest expression on their faces.   Chu looking worried starts a sentence: In the past two days … but he stops  when he sees the imperceptible facial expression of D2 and asks Chu: something wrong? D2: no it is fine – Chu questioning face – D2: nothing a …nothing  – Chu: say it – D2: the ham is over-smoked –  D1: it’s fine. Father probably forgot to taste it D2: or his taste is getting worse – Chu: my taste is fine.  He leaves the table rather upset. In his absence, the daughters talk about Mrs. Lian, mother of their friend Jin-Rong, who is  back from the USA unable to adapt to the exile. Mrs. Liang is a smart old woman, very talkative. As the daughters comment of the possibility that she will provide companionship for the father. He is back . Chu: like I have time to gossip after taking care of you three …these past two days… Seeing D2’s’ expression:  What now? D2 interrupts: I have a little announcement to make and declares that she purchased a modern new apartment and would move away. Chu comments laconically about the wisdom of investing in property. When the property company loses all of D2’s apartment and savings  Chu does not comment except to say that she can still live in his house. 

HOW THE SISTERS LOOK AT THEIR FATHER:  The sisters consider the ritual lunch as a chore.  In the absence of their father called urgently they discuss the situation. When D2 announces that she will leave soon to live in her flat, D1 is sombre. D2 understands that it is not fair to leave D1 to care for the old man but he can barely stand the sight of her. She lives in a different world. D3 very down to earth does not see a problem and that this is bound to happen. While D2 understands her sister’s upset she carries on saying the father does not need them anymore. D2 declares that  what he really needs is a companion his own age like  Mrs. Liang . D3 : we’ve tried setting him up and its been a disaster the only true love in his life was our mother. There follows an argument about the marital relationship of their parents seen differently:  D1 maintains that the relationship was based on real old-fashioned respect and values while D2 asserts that it was an old-fashioned war that ended when Mother died.

This is followed by the scene of D1 and her close friend Jin-Rong debating the situation. They compare the friend’s mother Mrs. Liang  who wants to live  with her daughter and. D1 ‘same here father wants to live with me’.  Jin-Rong : ‘it is not the same. Chu is much stronger than my mum. He takes care of himself and others’. D1: ‘my Dad needs attention too. I will take care of him for the rest of his life. Friend: ‘I am sure he does not want that.’ (Once again we see Lee’s skill in irony in dropping hints that will make sense later in the film.) 

However D2’s attitude towards her father changes completely when in hospital to visit Old Wen she catches a sight of her father. She starts worrying about him:  Is he all right? She accompanies him to  Old Wen death rituals and supports him in his grief. We learn later that Chu visit to the  hospital was to get a good health testimony for his marriage. 

Chu’s interest in children: on his jogging exercise Chu meets Liang Jin-Rong and her daughter Shan-Shan.   He finishes up by walking Shan Shan to school and providing lunchtime food to the children. A very funny scene shows Shan-Shan in class taking orders from a crowd of kids  for their lunch. It transpires that her mother and grandmother are very bad at cooking. 

Old man retires: The restaurant manager visits Chu to persuade him not to retire “ The restaurant needs your presence”. But Chu’s response: “Do I just stand in the kitchen until I rest in Peace, like Old Wen? “ and argue that good food is not appreciated anymore. “Fortunately, I do not plan wasting my whole life on this stuff.”  

Chu’s sexuality: Openly his friend Old Wen declares “you are as repressed as a turtle”. Sexual images can be interpreted in a cut from D2 making love to Chu handling a chicken and a very brief shot of Chu rather tense introducing a couple of two sticks in the mouth a fish.  If an interest in his body can be interpreted as a revival of sexuality, we can see that the scenes of massages and hot tubs appear towards the end of the film.

A major twist in the narrative provides, fun at the expense of Mrs. Liang and resolution  of the problem of care of the Father when the daughters leave home. Chu has always been very tolerant of Mrs. Liang constant chatter. At a formal family meal, after an excruciatingly embarrassing time and many drinks Chu announces his intention of selling the family house and marrying Liang Jin-Rong.  Everybody is shocked but Mrs. Liang is hysterical and collapses on the floor. Jin-Rong reassures the daughters that Chu will still love them. 

Chu’s New Life: In the empty old  house, D2 has prepared as expertly as her father a meal.  D1 and D2 cannot make it and  Jin-Rong is heavily pregnant in the new house. 

The point I tried to make is that Chu’s character as an old man is extremely well drawn by Lee. His narrative is full of twists and turns irony and fun. It has not been easy to disentangle all the characteristics of Chu as a sensitive laconic old Chef. The expertise in his profession, his unconditional love for his daughters, his secret love, the effect of his friend’s death on his decision to retire. To make the puzzle complete,  a similar analysis of the other characters may reveal a detailed and sensitive film that need more than one viewing. 

The film may stand as a moral tale about how in old age men need a young woman, but this is another story . 

Posted in Ageing, Ageism, Ang Lee, care, family, Film Analysis, food, grief, intergenerational relationships, love, murder, women's friendships | Tagged | Leave a comment

CARAMEL (2007)

Caramel 2018 

One of the EON friend (a woman with a Lebanese background)  suggested we viewed Labaki’s Caramel   as ‘feel good’ film for the end of year. 

Given my background (see post 2012 ) I was very surprised by the animated discussion. 

I had showed the film twice before (2012 and 2016) ) to different friends groups. The diverging reactions this time echoed the previous ones but were still more marked : “Depressing, Feminist – Funny, Boring”. While some people looked at the film as portraying women’s repressed life in Beirut, others saw it as a positive representation of women solidarity and friendship across faith cultures.  The discussion focused mainly on the young women. There were some comments about the representation of the dementing old woman. On the whole certain scenes were picked up and discussed but other significant ones  did not get any attention. 

 (see previous posts) 

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EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994) film genres…

 

My Father was the centre of the family, and everybody tried to please him. My Mother loves me and everything goes well. I have no conflict whith her, so that’s not dramatic. Ang Lee 

Why was I not offended by the portrayal of a stereotypically unpleasant old woman, mother and grandmother  in  Eat Drink Man Woman?  Why was I not unsettled by a man marrying a woman as young as his daughters?

Viewing the film with a group or reading reviews did not help. No comments addressed the subject or, more seriously the subject of ageing. 

How I would like to have the time to research and analyse this film frame by frame!…But on reflection only a few lines will do. It is Lee’s sense of fun, light touch, empathy and exceptional director’s skill in depicting ageing and family intergenerational differences that made the film so appealing.  With the stuff of classical family melodrama, its violent outbursts and high emotional explosions, Lee constructs a film difficult to categorise. IMDB tries the usual genres: comedy, drama, romance but none singly or as a group, will fit. There is a past emotional trauma, a religious conversion, a pregnant teenager, a lover’s betrayal, the death of a friend, the loss of a paid for new apartment, students’ abuse of a teacher, and  father/daughter conflict.  For me the scenes featuring the old woman were pure farce, a genre I am partial to.  The scene where the little girl takes orders for her mates’  school lunches is also hilarious. I find it impossible to be judgmental in this context. 

The film is the last of Ang Lee’s trilogy called  Father Knows Best – undoubtedly a man’s view point, but a very sensitive, fun and feel-good point of view…. It is constructed like a visual puzzle where small details are very significant and one needs to notice the clues that propel the narrative. The film deserves serious and time-consuming research and analysis that I will leave for the time being. 

 

Posted in Ageing, Ang Lee, classic film, fable, food, grief, love, melodrama, three generations of women, women's friendships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994) at EON

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) at EON 

I mentioned in this blog that I would not concentrate any more on the representation of  old women in films but widen my interest and abandon the time-consuming film analysis approach. 

 

After being alerted to Ang Lee’s  Pushing Hands  (Cinema, Films, and Ageing, Posted on October 18, 2018) by a couple of EON members of the Ealing film club I decided to explore this director.  I viewed  Eat Drink Man Woman at home and was so delighted that I showed it to the EON (Ealing Over 60 Network)  film group meeting. 

The drama of widower Master Chef Chu and his daughters is treated in a sensitive and light hearted way. 

I will use the daughters’ identifiers Daughter 1 2 and 3 in order of seniority: Jia-Jen, a chemistry teacher converted to Christianity, Jia-Chien, an airline executive, and Jia-Ning, a student.   

What I found interesting is that of the 18 women and one man 8 of them had seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.  Some  also knew the director’s name of these famous films. One viewer only realised after the end of the film that  she had seen it before but appreciated it better. 

As usual people were keen to speak and at times the conversations were animated and impossible to record.  The first speaker said that the film was eminently unpredictable and this helped maintain her interest throughout. Later one woman said that “it is a good thing that there was not a happy ending”.  The laughs during viewing were many and indicated – to use the major food metaphor of the film – the sweet/sour feel of this family drama. 

Generally the exchanges were focused on the importance of food and the lives and relationships of the various members of the family. Their roles and relationships in the household and outside the home were examined. 

There was special stress on the fact that the ritual weekly family meal that the father spent a lot of time and expertise in preparing was considered as a chore by the daughters. Also that the father was treated with respect at work. The issue of his fate when the sisters left home was considered.

The audience was divided on assessing the daughter1 and her past. Was her affair with a fellow student who disappeared abroad a fantasy or a betrayal?   He appears again as a business colleague of Daughter2. He denies the affair and has only a vague recollection of Daughter1. Some thought that she was repressed and fantasised, others that you couldn’t trust a man and she was betrayed. 

 One person felt that the representation of  Daughter2 in spite of her liberated lifestyle was sexist.   

It was noted that the last scene where father and daughter2  en tete a tete share the ritual meal of the first scenes was an indication that the daughter was replicating the life of her father and doing what she always wanted to do: cooking in her father’s kitchen to get his approval.    

We only had a half an hour for the discussion and I have no doubt that there was further informal  talk over the ritual afternoon tea. 

I wondered why I did not mind the father marrying a woman his daughters’ age and the comic representation of mother and grandmother. But I found the whole film so subtle and kind that I just could not find fault with it. I must find time to study its complex structure and the use of metaphors as well as the treatment of old age, and men’s friendships.The last aspects was not hinted at during the short discussion. WHY? 

 

 

 

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