This is an aide-memoir about Kore-eda wonderful film. I have to wait until a DVD is made available so I can relish again with more focus on the old married couple and their mixed feelings about their children and family visit . In the meantime Trevor Johnston – Sight and Sound February 2010.
I missed seeing Hannah (2018) on the big screen. This film co-funded by Euroimages of the Council of Europe did not get a wide distribution in London but a friend alerted me. She recommended the most depressing film about an old woman she had ever seen and wanted to know what I thought. She knows that I do not like to be influenced by being told what the film is about so I had no preconceptions.
My first impression was in response to the first image and sound. For the first time in films about old women I recognised my own ageing skin. Age spots are also called sun spots to make them more acceptable. In French they are sometimes referred to, more cruelly, as ‘les fleurs de cimetière’. But I also noticed the temporal vein that had me worried a few months ago.
The opening close-up is of Charlotte Rampling making odd disturbing unnatural sounds. I interpreted this as a woman in deep distress, possibly demented and the next sequence as a session of psychological workshop for people needing to express their distress. I wondered why the face closeup filled only half of the wide screen. This framing was common throughout the film.
As the film progressed I desisted from this interpretation as Rampling seemed to operate normally going to acting workshops, swimming, working as a cleaner and child minder, baking, using public transport. But I became more and more irritated by the greys, browns and different shades of cold blue of the settings, by Rampling’s cropped closeups appearing more often than not on the side of the screen with a dark area on the other half. The long sequences, the brown vertical lines appearing regularly in some scenes, the stairs, the long sequences of waiting for the train? tube?, the multitude of stairs, children running, the dog not eating, all details of the mise-en-scene are designed to force you to make sense of a film that has no story. One is forced to interpret the signs and try and fit them in a non existing narrative. I felt insulted by the scene – a too obvious image – where she emasculates (is this the right word?) the lilies after being rejected by her son. The sequences about a beached dead whale and the walk to the dustbin in the back of buildings seem to be cuts of another film.
I sought help in the reviews. It seems that most of them picked out some of details in the film to support their own interpretations which are often contradictory. In so doing they construct a story by ignoring other significant sequences. The late divulging of the reason for the husband’s incarceration in particular is left for viewers to imagine or ignore and the reviewers to be so divided in their assessments.
This film deserves a serious study about film and interpretation. Rampling obtained many acting awards for this film but it seems that it is not possible to understand who she is.
She is described by English, American and French reviewers in many different ways :
bleak portrait of an ageing house-cleaner in suburban Brussels who is struggling to cope with the fallout from her husband’s recent criminal conviction (it involves, we learn over the course of the film, child sexual abuse).
woman crumbling under duress after her husband is incarcerated
mutique, grise, confite de mal-être et de haine d’elle-même
Hannah’s face may tremble, but we sense more than a hint of steel underneath
Hannah imperceptibly deteriorates
frigid portrait of a woman in crisis
Isolation and extreme emotional anguish
Hannah’s face may tremble, but we sense more than a hint of steel underneath
Thoughts of P. Case member of the Ealing Over 60 Network. Pam could not stay for the discussion. She was not present when I had mentioned that some academics proposed that the film provoke our prior conceptions and values that challenge stereotypes.
A bleak film about modern life for the up and coming rich of London and their disfunctional relationships. a mother trapped and dominated by her husband and not really happy with the role she was forced into; a daughter who blames mother’s lack of affection for her current unhappiness; a son who is successful in the accepted sense of the word but has no time for love or enjoyment of his family, his kids glued to TV or machines; his friend, who has failed to make it rich and works as a builder for his rich friend – resentfully, as it turns out.
BUT the start of the relationship between the mother and the younger man seemed to me to have real tenderness and enjoyment of each other on both sides, and I was surprised by his coke fuelled, bitter, cruel outburst later. He can only relate at a superficial level and seemingly deals with his feelings of failure/loneliness/alienation by having lots of sex. As usual the women are shown wanting a full, emotionally engaging relationship, whereas he finds their demands for such a thing ultimately controlling and destructive.Is this more the norm for many men in our society – sexual relationships leading to responsibilities which they fear? Man still meant to be the eventual provider? as illustrated by the son and his wife.
I was unconvinced by the mother’s explicit drawings of her lover – I personally feel this is a male approach, coming from the writer, and was included merely as a plot device.
Was the final message one of hope – mother found her independence and set off travelling? But this only because of the money left to her by her husband.
Of the 24 people who came to the film session of EON only 16 stayed for the discussion. One member (the one male member of three who stayed for the discussion) declared that the only good point of the film was that the older woman enjoyed having sex. He was reminded that her desire was in the context of unpleasant selfish family. The majority of contributions were about the betrayal of the daughter by her mother and the impossibility of suspending disbelief . Nobody saw in the film a challenge to stereotype. (see previous blog The Mother or Thatcher Britain )
There is a huge difference between my reactions to Eternity and a Day in my early 60s and now at 84. In 1998 Central Station was also released . At the time I focused my attentionon the representation of old women in feature films.
Out of interest I also viewed Eternity and A Day (EAAD) because it featured the relationship of an old man and a child and dismissed it as irrelevant to my research.
In my 60s Death was remote, the past was safely tucked away in an effort to deal with retirement and negotiating my identity as an ‘old woman’. Nowadays the past and death are familiar visitors. I viewed EAAD again and was shocked by its impact on me. The gender of the protagonist Alexander did not seem relevant since the poetic and sometimes intriguing treatment of his memories and of his coming to terms with death touched me deeply. Although I am not terminally ill, at 84 my brain often revisits the past in a sort of life review exercise and memories surface unexpectedly.
The structure of the film is so complex that it is only after hours of trying to find a way of writing about it in its entirety that I realised that I was unable to express in words a work that is essentially a beautiful film poem about ageing and death.
The travelling and panning shots, the stills, the long takes (average shot length (around 2mins), the importance of buildings, the contrasts between the sea views and the noisy cars in dark streets, the sometimes imperceptible editing between different time frames, the colours, the subtle acting, the music and the poetic script and language all contribute to the impact of the film.
The following is a very personal account of my thoughts, feelings and reactions to Eternity and a Day.
The title sequences: It took me sometime to realise that the in the only flashback in the film expresses the subject of the film: memories emerging into consciousness…. It comes out of the water every once in a while just for a moment when the morning star is home sick for the earth and stops to look. to everything stops and TIME stops……
Flash backs and memories:
My first surprise was Alexander’s first memory triggered by the reading of a letter from his deceased wife Anna by his daughter. The memory was of a visit of the extended family on the birth of his daughter. While the titles flashback sequence showed Alexander as a child, I perceived him in the following memories as the observer of past events.
Importance of the environment
I lived by the sea and left the family house in my 20s. I was touched by the presence of the sea throughout the film. The sea as a site of pleasure but also dangerous and a symbol of death. The sea as nature in contrast with the dark streets with traffic.
The family house and its loss also struck an emotional chord in me.
It is the image of human shapes hanging on the border wire that gave me a clue of how to interpret the film. The shapes were definitely not human and yet expressed poignantly the tragedy of refugees. This image made me reluctant to interpret the scenes featuring the 8 years old refugee boy with no name and Alexander’s trip to the border as a realist description. It is when I read the scenes featuring the child not only as a comment on the exploitation of refugee children but also as a device to expose Alexander examining the last hours of his life that I could make sense of certain scenes. (However I am still pondering on the image of the three cyclists dressed in yellow at the end of the film)
I feel I am not qualified to dwell on the sequences that involve Alexander’s identity as a troubled poet considering his creativity and his death, the poet as an exile. I just do not understand the meaning of the buying of words. In this piece I would like to look how Alexander’s relationships are expressed.
Alexander and his deceased father. Their relationship is only commented on by his mother who said that they were not very close. You always doubted him and that hurt him.
Alexander and his carer: It is to his kind carer that he declares that he is going to die. She offers her help and support but he refuses. His visit to her village is surreal. The wedding ceremony involving the whole village and the bride and groom dance is interrupted. Alexander asks his carer to look after his dog. The ceremony stops and starts again. For me these sequences show interest in the Greek traditions but also the way the needs of the boss prevail over those of the employed.
Alexander and his daughter: The relationship is very interesting. The first memory sequence occurs when his daughter reads aloud her mother’s letter. This memory is full of the joy of the baby’s birth. The extended family visit and view the baby in a cradle on the beach and socialise. But in real time there is a cold contact with the daughter and son-in-law who refuse to look after the dog and have sold the house that is due to be demolished. He does not divulge that he is dying.
Alexander and Anna his wife:
The self absorption of the poet and distance from his wife are well represented. Anna: All you think about is your book… I am trying to kidnap you between two books… You live your own life beside us beside your daughter and me but not with us… I know one day you’ll leave. On the beach during a party when he leaves her to climb the cliff and relive his childhood she calls him traitor twice.
This relationship is replayed when a young student couple board the bus. This time Alexander is the neutral observer
MAN:… Maria must you walk away when I’m talking to you. I don’t see why you have to be angry. We need new artistic forms Maria …We need new forms of expression and if we can’t have them better to have nothing.… She gets up… Why do you walk away when I am talking to you? She drops the the bouquet of flowers she was holding and walks away. He runs after her off the bus.
His relationship with his mother reads so true and touching. Alexander as a child in the title sequences hears her laughing when in the early morning he escapes to go swimming with his friends.
Alexander and his mother :
Later she looks after the new born baby, or she is waiting for him at the beach party. On a boat-trip she confides to her son about dreaming of her husband. She comments that Alexander and his father did not get on.
The visit of Alexander to his mother at the hospital to say goodbye is interrupted by a memory. She is sitting vacant on the side of the bed, gets to the window and drawing the curtain calls for Alexander to come back for his meal. He recalls the beach party when he sheltered her running for cover in the wind and the rain.
She comes back to the bed … the knives and forks the silver ones, my dowry, where have you put them. She nearly falls and Alexander catches her and helps her back onto the bed : yesterday they were still here. He sits back on the chair and looks at her. …Why mother Why didn’t anything work out the way we expected? Why Why must we rot helplessly torn between pain and desire Why have I lived my life in exile. Why have I felt at home only in those rare moments when granted the grace to speak my language my own language When I could still recover lost words or retrieve forgotten words from the silence. Why is it that only then could I hear the sound of my footsteps echoing in my house again why?. He kisses her on the forehead. Tell me mother. Turns the light off. He walks to the door in the dark: … Tell me mother ? why didn’t we know how to love?
Goodbye to the boy: In the next sequence the boy comes to say goodbye and the two hug and declare their mutual fear. I see this as Alexander saying goodbye to his introspections. The next sequence is the highly praised bus sequence. Here we see a relaxed smiling Alexander observing the passengers – and himself- in a detached manner: the political activist, the student couple, the musicians, the poet. The poet declares life is sweet.
The last sequence of the film is of Alexander visiting his house. The lobby is strewn with broken stones. The doors are shut. A long pan from the door to the window with a view of the flat next door and back again is followed by what I would describe as neither a flashback nor a memory but a fantasy, a declaration of love to Anna.
I am writing to you by the sea again and again I write to you I talk to you.
When you happen to recall this day remember …remember that I looked at it as if I were all eyes caressed it as if I were all hands I stand here and wait for you trembling. Give me this day.
The front doors open to reveal a baby in a pram watched by grandmother, people in white are singing. Anna comes towards him. He walks towards her:… Anna, shall we dance? I know you don’t like me to but today is my day. They dance in close loving contact and kiss … Anna I’m not going to the hospital I’m not going … to the hospital Anna I’m not going… I’d like to make plans for tomorrow ………
Anna walks backwards towards the sea.
Whats tomorrow Anna. I asked you once: how long does tomorrow lasts and you said : Eternity and a day.
She disappears. He puts his hand over his heart. …My passage over to the other side tonight. With words I brought you back again and you are here. And all is true and all is waiting …. my little flower ….
He walks into the sea.
In the media hubbub surrounding the recent Academy Awards, I saw a headline announcing that movie producers are now embracing older actors and stories about old people. No, they are not – not unless their name is Judi Dench or Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren. (It helps to be British.)
And in general, there are just three storylines:
• The aforementioned extreme sports stories (that always imply “if he can do it, what’s wrong with you?”)
• Love in old age (aren’t they cute)
• Spunky elders (with or without terminal disease) who carry on through every adversity, designed and guaranteed to leave the entire audience weeping when they die at the end
In supporting roles, elders are almost always the objects of ageist humor.
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.
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
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
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 sex … God 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 .
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)
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.
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?
I saw The Wife on the big screen with my partner and a friend (male) the three of us over 80 years old.
It was remarkable that the three of us had to say something immediately at the end, even before getting up from our seats. The friend said: That was really bad film making, I said: She was amazing but I did not believe in her at all. I was surprised to hear my husband say: It is the first time that I laugh at a death.
I skimmed the gushing reviews online to find an echo of our disparaging spontaneous responses.
Rotten Tomatoes gave it 85%, and Metacritic 77% and some reviewers declared that Close deserved an Oscar . But it was comforting to find some critics whose opinions were the same as ours.
Although the death of the main character was not considered as funny, some critics found a comic element in the film. Bradshaw writes : In this hugely enjoyable dark comedy (The Guardian). Also Kermode: In The Wife, an intriguing (if occasionally contrived) tragicomic drama…
Forgetting Close’s performance, the film was justly criticised for its poor cinematography.
Slant magazine’s Semerene : …As such, pairing an actress of Close’s caliber with such banal material makes everything that isn’t articulated by Close herself feel like soap-operatic redundancy.
Walter Adding San Francisco Chronicle : It would be wrong to say Closes’s performance in the Wife is wasted, but it certainly deserved a better movie.
And from a top French critic: F. Levesque in Le devoir : Tout du long, Runge recourt à une grammaire cinématographique rudimentaire (« épurée », si l’on se sent charitable). Quoi qu’il en soit, ce qui promettait d’être une sombre méditation psychologique se meut en mélodrame appuyé….Une héroïne de la trempe de Joan méritait plus de panache.
I perceived the film as a bad family melodrama with its conflicts and classical violent outbursts. However I just could not understand why I found Close’s performance so impressive while not believing in her as a likely character. It is the Scotsman’s Harkness that gave me a clue:
The pain and resilience that frequently flashes across her face may be redolent of someone resentful about having to suppress her own ambitions, but there’s an ambiguity there too, suggestive of someone more ruthlessly complicit in her own fate than she’s willing to let on. Here, Close instinctively understands the lingering power of inscrutability, so it’s too bad the film doesn’t. It spells things out that don’t need spelling out and, come the climax, turns the story soapy instead of matching the intelligence of its star.
It is this ambiguity that did not convince me. It is the power of Close’s acting the role of a very strong, capable woman behind a compliant wife that I just did not believe in throughout. It is not that this situation does not occur in real life but neither the narrative, nor the mise-en-scene support this situation.
I know that the film deserves a closer analysis. After all Joan is a grandmother and the ‘old woman’ was the subject of my blog but the dvd is not yet released and there are many films featuring old women that I need to view. More relevant my free time is shrinking at an alarming rate.
However Geoffrey Macnab’s review in the Independent (27th september) corresponds exactly to my reading : The Wife demands a giant leap of faith from its audience. It defies credibility that such a strong-willed figure would ever accept second best as meekly as the film implies https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/the-wife-review-glenn-close-jonathan-pryce-a8556291.html
This difference of interpretation between most top reviewers and some viewers does raise the question of Stuart Hall’s dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings. A study of the reactions to this film of the general public would be extremely interesting.
I have always argued that using film clips to support an argument is not acceptable to me as I think that a clip outside the context of the whole film may have different, even contradictory meanings.
What can 24 hours of clips be like?
I delayed experiencing The Clock as I feared the long queues (see previous post). We chanced it yesterday at 11am. No queues and such an experience. We stayed two hours in very confortable sofas and would have stayed all day if hunger did not intervene. By then the queue started to form.
Two hours of clips. It was fascinating. I could not resist checking my watch from time to time to ground the experience. Apart from recognising some films, naming some actors, laughing, feeling the tensions of a narrative, I was transported in a world between fiction and reality, wanting to know more about the effect of this extraordinary exploration of the cinematic effects..
I have had no time to read about this wonderful use of film clips but would urge you to go to the Tate this autumn.
Cinema, Films and Ageing.
I have been running old women film groups for the last twenty years and blogging about the representation of the old woman in feature films for the last ten years.
My relationship with cinemas, film, film groups and writing needs to be adjusted to my circumstances but also to the general changes in the film world.
I seem to have less and less time to enjoy analysing films frame by frame and commenting on their ageism or lack of. I cannot grasp really what is happening to time. It races so quickly that I cannot write one sensible paragraph in what turns out to be a whole morning. On the other hand hours go so slowly when my brain is in rest mode.
My hearing and sight are deteriorating in spite of the advance technology of aids. Helas, in general, accessibility in cinemas is not ideal and subtitles sessions few and far between. What are called Art films – my favourite genre – are shown in tiny cinemas not bigger than my sitting room and less comfortable – not worth travelling in London polluted air.
The good news. There is more interest in old women in films : https://www.facebook.com/wo50ff/
Film groups and clubs in different forms and venues are flourishing.
Although ageism is still rife, one hears old women voices more often.
I cannot keep up with the generally released films featuring old actors. I run a monthly film session at EON : Ealing Over 60s Network. It is very well attended and not women only. I do declare that my speciality is the representation of old women in films and I try to document the very interesting discussions. It is the last session of the term that I decided to change the focus of this blog.
A member told me that the Ealing Classic Cinema Club had shown Ang Lee’s Pushing Hands. A non-British born like me she thought I would I would appreciate the portrayal of the conflict of two cultures that she found very accurate.
I saw the film and found it lacking in rigour. While the old man Tai Chi master’s role was well portrayed, the incidents of conflict were repetitive. I found the role of young woman writer somehow superficial and unsympathetic.
But this led me to Ang Lee’s following films: The Wedding Banquet and eat drink man woman that I Hope to blog about soon.
If you are interested in old age and cinema do not miss Agnes Varda and JR film released this week in London.
Any comments from my part would be superfluous. The film speaks for itself.
18 members present
15 stayed for the discussion
The discussion was extremely interesting, nearly unanimous in praising the film. Only two people were very critical. One objected to the way the old man manipulated his son, the other was very bored. This surprised me because the 4 ex-members of the Brent U3A group who meet occasionally did not appreciate it at all, mainly for its male point of view and abundance of cinematic cliches.
I did introduce the session by saying that while British reviewers were unanimous in liking the film, the French press were less enthusiastic.
Below are the main recorded points of the discussion.
– There is nothing that I can question about it. So accurately real, a documentary
– about dying but life affirmingfilm amazing, describing another culture.
– I did not like the son being exploited by the father.
– The relationship between the father exploiting the son
– It is the same in our culture. The wage earner bears all the weight of families
– relationship father, son, grandfather, granddaughter, death as a natural event, even joyous at the end. In our civilisation death is taboo. I like the way it is confronted, – I loved the scene where the father is dying and next minute he is watching the space
– I was in India and in Varanasi – amazing place – very spiritual. It must be like Mecca for the Moslems. The family element – travel – it takes the audience in places they would not normally see
– the piles of wood, the hotel and its squalor –
– worthwhile film in every way
As usual the process of condensing a conversation into the main points of the discussion hide the emotional impact of the film.
But what did the French object to ? asked some members. I tried to quote some of the criticism of the direction, the pace of the narrative, the male point of view. The contributions carried on with enthusiasm
– I have been to India not as a tourist but with a family. It is just like that, you do get the milk from the cow. It gets the atmosphere of India
– all the characters achieve peace
– director self effacing- the fact that the old man was dying led the family to confront their situations and achieve what they wanted to achieve and think about life
– I think that they do believe that they come back as an animal
– There were such interesting little details
– very educational
– funny scenes communication on the phone
– he wanted to die alone
– people often die when carers, relatives are out of the room
– more about difficulties with the son than about death- eastern religions view of death he is going to be reborn
– love interest: this is what happens in old people homes
– the critic as a male view is bizarre because all films are from a male pt of view
– some scenes are too long
– it depicted Buddim practices, but there are many other religions in India. –the comic side was important
-there was no serious exposition of the buddhist beliefs just as in the West there are no deep consideration of the christian religions
-I thought the sentence about being part of the ocean and the talks about reincarnation were enough
It is the conclusion of Yves G’s review (in All Cine) that explain to me both the likes and dislike of reviewers and audience:
Hotel Salvation is a sensitive film that one would have loved to love. But it is not exotic enough to disorientate, not American enough to discover its influences, not serious enough to be heartbreaking, not lighthearted enough to make us smile. On the bank of the Ganges as on the bank of the Styx, it remains between two shores in its hesitation to declare its point of view.
“Hotel Salvation” est un film délicat qu’on aurait aimé aimer. Mais il n’est pas assez exotique pour être dépaysant, pas assez américain pour qu’on y trouve ses marques, pas assez grave pour être déchirant, pas assez léger pour nous faire sourire. Au Gange, comme on serait au bord du Styx, il reste entre deux rives à force d’hésiter sur son parti pris.
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.
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.
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 <email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.