If movies are a reflection of society and our reality, it was only about time until they caught up with the fact that the Western population is aging. Better conditions, food, scientific discoveries, less babies per couple and other factors are responsible for this. I’m not really interested in how we got there, but I find it fascinating that the “older” segment of the world population is increasing. Right now we have the highest percentage of old people since, well maybe forever. I know this doesn’t sound very scientific, but that’s not the point. The point is that the very way we live will be changed by the fact that there are more elderly people.
How is it going to change, David? Oh, I don’t know, I’m just a marketing student. I guess there will be more products and services targeting this growing older market segment. Of course there will be also problems, like: How are we supposed to get enough money for pensions? Should grandma and grandpa still be allowed to drive? And what if the whole world starts smelling like old people? I’m exaggerating a bit here, but yes, ageism could turn out to be an issue. Some people think old folks are useless, some mature people themselves think that once they’re retired they’re worthless for society, because they don’t work. I know this is all interesting, but let’s talk about movies.
Lately there’s been an increase in elderly protagonists. This weekend Bad Grandpa, a film about a mischievous grandfather, comes in theaters, next week a bunch of old farts will party it up in Last Vegas and in a couple more weeks Alexander Payne’s road-trip Oscar contender Nebraska hits the road (Go Bruce Dern!). Red, Up! and almost any Oscar-bait film the Academy of grey white men love is about people well past their prime. Since this is a recent phenomenon, it’s not surprising that most of my favorite films about old folks will be recent.
As much as I sound like a tool when I talk about old people, I actually like these kinds of movies quite a bit, and I do respect the elderly. However, much like other “minorities” or people on the “fringe of society”, increasingly I get the feeling they don’t want to preferential treatment. Now more than ever they feel empowered. It’s their time. They’re not ready to die yet. They still got life in them and even if they’re weak and tired they can still kick ass, be cool or love, which coincidentally brings me to the first film I want to discuss.
Amour (2012, Michael Haneke)
In Amour Michael Haneke shows what true love is all about. The film about the elderly couple caring for each other on their last days together is a touching, realistic, but bleak film. It shows the harsh side of aging, the suffering, the regression, the weakness, the hurt, the feelings of desperation, anger, coldness even. Even though Haneke’s portrayal may seem detached and lacking of empathy, that is how life is. There’s nothing romantic about a decaying body. Most of those notions were imparted us by Hollywood. The sad truth is that we all die. I don’t know if there’s a happily ever after, but in Amour at least they had each other.
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012, Sophie Huber)
The documentary of legendary cult actor Harry Dean Stanton is not only one of the best examples of existentialist cinema, but a truly spectacular looking film. The film explores themes such as the meaning of life and if such a notion exists at all. Sophie Huber tires to discover if Stanton is satisfied with his life. Would he have changed anything? He has achieved so much, does that make him happy? Could he die in peace? Is there something missing? I’m not going to lie, in certain parts this was a most heartbreaking film, mainly because it’s all real and because you feel so much for this man who for the first time appears real and human.
Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is more about showing that old people can still be badass, they can still look cool and connect with the outside world. There is hope. He still got it. Yes, he may have made some mistakes throughout his life, but who hasn’t? It’s never too late to make things right. It’s never to late to be a hero. It’s never to late to drive a slick-looking Ford. This film is also about prejudices, racism and so many other things. While it’s certainly the most romantic and possibly unrealistic of my picks, it’s also the one you hold on to, because let’s face it as much as those other films may be realistic and true we also go to the movies to escape sadness and heartache.
Broken Flowers (2005, Jim Jarmusch)
Carried by a brilliant performance by Bill Murray Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers is about an aging Don Giovanni that finds out he may have a son somewhere. The film shows his loneliness, the man’s regrets, it’s about boredom, ennui, mal de vivre. It’s also about making peace with yourself, your past, who you were and what you did. To be able to forgive yourself and live with all your flaws is to love yourself. There are rarely clear-cut answers in life, there’s rarely a movie moment. To quote Sofia Coppola’s short film Lick the Star “Everything changes, nothing changes. The tables turn and life goes on”. Not everything resolves, but that’s okay (“I’m sure that’s so gay”).
About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne)
This is arguably Payne’s best film so far, but it’s just so sad and depressing. Jack Nicholson’s character is a lonely old man who just seems to be waiting to die. After a life that he felt was pointless he is finally retired, now what? Why not take go on a road trip, after all that’s what indie films are all about, aren’t they? One of my favorite things in this film is James Glennon’s (RIP) cinematography, it’s very stylish (almost too much) for a film like this, yet it is so beautiful and really helps conveying a sense of loss and desolation. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this film and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch it, but it’s definitely a stunning cinematic triumph.
All in all we’ve learned, that most films about old folks are depressing, sad and even hard to watch sometimes. However they’re also true and real and sometimes we need to be reminded of our own mortality and that no matter how cliché it may sound: Life is short. I will stop typing now before I start to cry. Thanks for reading and remember, there are happier films you could be watching, but if you want something to think about these five films surely will do it. Make sure you’re in the right mood and mindset otherwise you’ll just end up being beat up and suicidal. I’d like to end on an funny and upbeat note and quote an old guy in American Movie (1999): “It’s alright, it’s ok there’s something to live for: Jesus told me so”.
Though I didn’t get to update you as much as I would have liked to, covering this year’s Locarno Film Festival mainly for another blog, I still would like to discuss it here briefly. The Locarno Film Festival strives to be among the top ten festivals worldwide, but obviously they’re deluding themselves if they think they’re that important. Aside from a couple big names the event didn’t attract many big films or industry people, and they’re still trying to get over the fact that the Zürich Film Festival, which is almost sixty years younger, has more money and clout than they could dream of.
The change in artistic director (the guy that selects the films) has meant a dramatic shift in the quality of the films. Most of the press and public reactions I’ve heard seemed to echo this. For foreign press Locarno is just “something” between Cannes and Venice. The program this year was fairly underwhelming, but there were a couple good films. The best thing was that they managed to get Werner Herzog for a masterclass and to present dozens of his films. There were even unaired On Death Row episodes, which were beyond words. They touched me deeply and were some of the most powerful images (shot for television) I have ever seen.
Aside from Herzog, there was a George Cukor retrospective, but I didn’t catch any of those. Other guests of honor were Sir Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway and Douglas Trumbull. I was also pleased to meet and shake hands with Baltasar Kormákur (director of 2 Guns), Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani (directors of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears), James Fotopoulos (director of Dignity) and Matthew Johnson & Owen Williams (of The Dirties). Now that I mention all these nice people, the festival wasn’t so bad after all, because I enjoyed hearing these people talk after having seen their films. It’s like having live special features.
Here’s a list of everything I got to watch with short thoughts on the films I haven’t reviewed yet.
2 Guns (2013) – 6 (IMDb 7) – Action, Crime, Comedy (USA)
The first film I watched was 2 Guns and not being a big action fan I wasn’t expecting much. Like the director said this was a throwback to 80s genre fare and it shows. The plot is a bit too convoluted and complicated for me to be able to enjoy it, but there were some good laughs here and there and I’m sure action fans will get something out of this one. Like I said it’s not for me. The director is clearly very passionate about film and brining the industry to his country (Iceland) so it was great to hear him talk at the press conference.
Vijay And I (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 6.3) – Comedy, Romance (Belgium)
La Variabile Umana (2013) – 5 (IMDb 4.6) – Crime, Drama (Italy)
I love Italian cinema, but this was like a bad crime TV show. I couldn’t relate to this old and annoying cop and his troubles with his cute, but mischievous daughter. The cinematography and score were great, but if they were used for another film, here they didn’t fit at all. We’ve seen this story a thousand times before and done a lot better so there was no need for this film to exist really. The only thing I liked was the use of different film stocks and some of the atmosphere, but other than that it was fairly underwhelming.
Wrong Cops (2013) – 3 (IMDb 7.2) – Comedy, Crime (USA)
Not my sense of humor. At all. I thought this film was just trying to offend and be edgy or shocking or whatever, but for me it was just dumb (for lack of better term). It was entertaining yes, but does that make it a good movie? The structure is terrible, the ending, well I wonder if it should be considered an ending, and the characters are so annoying. This was probably the worst film I’ve seen at the festival. I don’t want to discuss it any further.
The Dirties (2013) – 7.5 (IMDb 7.9) – Comedy, Drama (Canada)
We’re The Millers (2013) – 5 (IMDb 7.2) – Crime, Comedy (USA)
Stupid comedy. Yes, it’s kind of funny, but it’s just one vulgar joke after the other. The story is a crossover between RV and The Joneses, with a dash of Weeds. The characters are just caricatures. It gets tiring after a while to watch. I feel like this film was written for a twelve-year-old, and if that’s the case: Bravo, you’ve succeeded. I bet your target audience will eat this up (box office numbers seem to indicate so).
Feuchtgebiete (2013) – 3.5 (IMDb 5.2) – Drama (Germany)
One of the worst films of the festival. Trying to be oh-so-offensive. This film is about a girl experiencing life through her bodily fluids. The book it’s based on was written by a women, this film however was written and directed by two men, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever. I’m not sure if it’s a comedy or a drama, but I don’t know the film knows either, so that’s cool. They’re trying so hard to be art house and break taboos and shit, but they end up forgetting that what matters at the end of the day is trying to make a good movie. So if I say I hate this film, it’s not because of the reasons the directors would think, but because it’s shallow and boring and arrogant and pretentious (but not in a good way).
Our Sunhi (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 6) – Drama, Romance, Comedy (South Korea)
Fairly boring and repetitive, but with a satisfying ending. This is a very romantic, but slow-moving Korean film. It’s about three men all interested in the same woman, but for different reasons and with varying degrees of a successful relationship with her. Basically this film shows you the different dates these guys go on and then they also know each other so it’s all these complicated relationships and love triangles and rectangles and hexagons and stuff. I liked it, but it’s a chore to sit through at times, because of the purposely static camera and well, just not much happening.
Dignity (2012) – 6 (IMDb N/A) – Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi (USA)
The Strange Color Of The Tears Of Your Body (2013) – 7 (IMDb 7.3) – Giallo (Belgium)
‘BEST OF RETROSPECTIVES’
Grizzly Man (2005) – 8.5 (IMDb 7.8) – Documentary, Biography (USA)
I was glad I caught at least one of Werner Herzog’s feature-length documentaries at the festival. It was incredible to hear Herzog give a master class about documentaries and his approach towards them. He’s very much against cinema verite and had some funny anecdotes in that sense. But speaking of Grizzly Man this is a terrifying and grandiose documentary about a man living and loving bears and then getting killed by one of them (that’s no spoiler, we’re told fairly early on). It’s heartbreaking because it’s so real and because Herzog manages once more to get at the heart of human nature. He captures this man’s madness, but also his passion for a cause he felt was important. I’m not going to lie between this one and On Death Row I cried more than once, but it was also so great and powerful that I just couldn’t help but fall in love with Werner Herzog. I was already a big fan of Stroszek, but now I’m going to track down and watch every film of his I can find.
The Stone (2013) – 6 (IMDb N/A) – Crime, Drama (South Korea)
This was a fairly boring film. It’s a debut feature. The director is clearly a Kim Ki-duk fan, and in the best moments of the film, the film is reminiscent of his style, but he has a lot to learn. The film is about a complicated Chinese board game called Go, which of course also becomes a metaphor for life and all that stuff. It’s fairly violent towards the end, but other than that not much happens. I don’t feel that this film achieved what it was going for and so it ends up being a bit forgettable.
‘BEST OFFICIAL SELECT’
L’Experience Blocher (2013) – 8 (IMDb N/A) – Documentary (Switzerland)
An incredible documentary on one of the most controversial political figures in Switzerland: Christophe Blocher, extreme right-wing populist. While I admire him as a self-made business man, I don’t necessarily agree with his political agenda and his methods, which often include scaring people in order to get votes. The filmmaker, clearly on the opposite side of the political spectrum, does a fine job of not making it a judgmental film. It’s not so much about Blocher’s ideas, but his persona. His life, his humanity. We see his wife, the places where he grew up, where he lives now, his daily life. It’s a fascinating portrayal of a lonely man. It reminded me almost of Citizen Kane towards the end, and I’m sure that was the Bron’s intent. Great documentary, but I doubt many outside of Switzerland are going to seek this one out I’m afraid, because of its protagonist that is only “famous” here “unfortunately”.
Mary Queen Of Scots (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 5.7) – Biography, Drama, Romance (Switzerland)
A rather triste and rehearsed costume drama. I felt they were trying to go Marie Antoinette, but of course they can only dream. The story would be interesting, but the execution is kind of boring (except for the cinematography and the score). The actors are really good, but the script is the real problem. There’s not much to keep the viewer engaged. A lot happens, but it’s as if nothing happens. Again, I’m not sure what exactly went wrong with this film, because it’s good on a technical level, but just ends up being underwhelming.
‘BEST OF THE FEST’
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012) – 8.5 (IMDb 7.7) – Documentary (Switzerland)
About Time (2013) – 5.5 (IMDb 6.4) – Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi (UK)
A problematic screenplay. The story is an incoherent mess. Still you can’t help but let the sweeping romanticism get the best of you. It starts as a comedy and ends as a drama, a very sappy one, but still. It’s about a guy who can time travel (but only to the past) and uses it to get the girl of his dreams. Surprisingly, the time travel aspect is used poorly and not commented on (directly). It’s a sweet film, but at the same time it feels forced and cliché.
Real (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 5.9) – Drama, Sci-Fi (Japan)
If you like big twists prepare for this one, or don’t, because I could see it coming and I’m usually the worst at identifying plot twists. Real is the story of a young man entering the mind of his girlfriend (through some weird futuristic technology) to save her from the coma she’s in. She seems to be hiding a dark past and our hero must find a way to get her back, but it’s not easy. There’s all sort of crazy stuff happening here, unfortunately the film spins its wheels for too long and so by the time you get to the end most viewers might have “checked out”. Some leaner editing would have helped, but once it gets going it’s actually not even that bad and Odagiri Jô is in it, so that was a nice surprise.
It is no exaggeration to say that Harry Dean Stanton might be one of the greatest character actors ever. A living legend. He has appeared in more than two-hundred films and worked with the industry’s finest directors. As it often happens with iconic and grand personalities of his caliber, it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, the man and the myth. If that annoying journalist in Somewhere somehow made it into this picture, he would probably ask: Who is Harry Dean Stanton? No need for that however, because that seems to be exactly Sophie Huber’s quest in her staggering debut documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. Continue reading