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”.
Pickpocket (1959) – 6.5 (IMDb 7.8) – Crime, Drama, Criterion (France)
I’ve only seen a couple Robert Bresson films, but already at this point I can tell that I am not a big fan of this acclaimed director. His cold and methodical style of filmmaking achieves great things on a technical level, but doesn’t connect with me on a personal level. The fault is certainly not with Bresson, but with me (if we’re looking for faults) and as the high IMDb ratings and great reviews suggest most people love his films (especially Michael Haneke). Pickpocket is the story of a young man stealing other people’s wallets and watches, while trying to justify his vile actions with faux moralist ideals he himself can’t seem to buy into. The film takes an almost documentarian approach showing the man’s everyday life. There’s little drama, although there are some moments you’re genuinely hoping he doesn’t get caught. What I liked about the film was the black & white cinematography and easy on the eyes Marika Green, in a supporting role. Other than that the film felt kind of empty. Luckily it’s under 80 minutes long. Again: Not a bad film certainly, just one that was kind of meh.
More precisely I should specify dysfunctional families, because those are really the most interesting ones, right? Family is a beautiful thing, unfortunately no family is perfect, because every family is made of human beings and human beings are imperfect. Pets don’t count or maybe they do, who cares. What I’m saying is that we all want a family, we need a family. If our “blood” family sucks, we’ll probably look for a surrogate family, like in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The thing is: We can’t escape being tied to a family, unless they’re dead. Sometimes even then they’re somehow with us, for better or worse.
This weekend Luc Besson‘s action/crime/comedy The Family comes out in American theaters, and so I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite sub-genres. Why am I particularly taken with this type of films? Well, because one way or another they’re useful to help you understand the dynamics within your own family. There’s also always a lot of drama going on usually, which is fun to watch, as long as it’s not your own family. I love my family and so here are some of my favorite films about family. I’m not even sure these are the top five, these are just five that are near and dear to me.
5. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)
A powerful drama about a man (Peter Falk) living with an insane woman, his wife (Gena Rowlands). This is one of my favorite films by John Cassavetes. It’s maybe more about marriage than family, but it’s definitely worthwhile and memorable. Cassavetes creates a nerve-wracking atmosphere that makes the film feel very heavy and weighty. Both lead actors give fantastic, possibly career-best performance in their respective roles. The film is also beautiful to look at and I’m not a big fan of the 70s aesthetic.
4. Der siebente Kontinent (1989, Michael Haneke)
The Seventh Continent is about a “failed” family. Failed in the sense that they all kill themselves. This is no spoiler, they set out to put an end to their existence from the get go. You know it’s going to happen, but in typical Haneke fashion of course it will take quite some time before it actually happens. The film takes it’s sweet time and that’s what makes it so intense and hard to watch. It’s a very depressing and cold film, and I usually tend to enjoy more romantic fare, but in this case it is totally appropriate to the narrative.
3. Festen (1998, Thomas Vinterberg)
The Celebration is a hand-held camera, documentary-style portrait of a family gathering together for a what is supposed to be a joyous occasion. You know who doesn’t seem to think so? Our main character. He has some “unresolved” issues with his father and they’re going to come to the surface in an epic climax. I won’t give anything away, but this film hit me very hard emotionally. There’s some dark stuff, but I love how it’s done and it’s very Danish. I’m a big fan of Danish humor and director Thomas Vinterberg.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
Definitely on the lighter side (this is a comedy/drama) The Royal Tenenbaums is about a bourgeois family. Parents are divorced, kids grew up to be adults in arrested development with daddy issues and so on. To me this is still Wes Anderson’s best film and it’s interesting to see him really find his style and who he is as an auteur. Charming, funny, well-written, great attention to detail (especially in the set design and costuming), an incredible cast of character actors and some genuinely touching moments: What’s not to love?
1. Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005, Sono Sion)
When I first saw this film (a sequel to Sono’s Suicide Club) I hated it. Then thinking about it I realized that I hated one of the main characters, but the thing is: You’re supposed to hate her. She is a horrible person doing horrible things. The film’s premise is that two girls function as “family members for hire”. Much like actors they play the role a family asks them to in exchange for money, but of course being a Sono Sion film there’s more to it. Noriko’s Dinner Table is a powerful drama bringing up some interesting sociological and moral issues.
So as you may have noticed these films about family are not easy to swallow. Sometimes they’re very heavy and deal with taboo issues or things that are not often talked about publicly when mentioning family. Sometimes they’re also lighter like the charming quirky indie Pieces of April (starring the adorable Katie Holmes). Either way they always tend to get emotional, sometimes it’s earned and sometimes it’s cheesy and unrealistically “perfect”, like in most Hollywood films or films targeting families. That’s not to say indies can’t be heavy-handed, there are of course a lot of Oscar-baity films, but they’re not worth mentioning or talking about, so I’ll stick to the ones I’ve mentioned. Yeah, so if you could just tell me about your favorite films about family that would be great!
Riddick is the third film in Vin Diesel’s crazy sci-fi/action trilogy, so this week’s topic is going to be trilogies. What are some of your favorite trilogies? Usually I always hear the same ole franchises mentioned when people talk about trilogies, but few people know that many auteurs and indie filmmakers work in that format as well. Since I tend to gravitate more towards the art house camp, my favorite trilogies are going to be a bit more “unusual” maybe, or pretentious, depending on how you see it. Don’t be offended if your favorite trilogy isn’t mentioned, just leave a comment with your favorites, so that my ridiculously elitist point of view will be counterbalanced.
Note: Some critics count Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence as a trilogy. Now, I’m not sure if that’s “official” or just the Criterion box set, but in any case those movies are amazing and some of the best in cinema history, so I’m not going to count them in my list, but they’re definitely some of my favorite films.
So, without further ado and in order of release date: Here are my five favorite trilogies and below some other I dearly love and wanted to mention because I don’t want to exclude anything.
5. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Alienation Trilogy
La Notte (1961)
4. Michael Haneke’s Glaciation Trilogy
The Seventh Continent (1989)
Benny’s Video (1992)
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
3. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Three Colors: White (1994)
Three Colors: Red (1994)
2. Whit Stillman’s Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love Trilogy
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
1. Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy
Before Sunrise (1995)
Before Sunset (2004)
Before Midnight (2013)
Honorable Mentions: Wonk Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild Trilogy, Lars von Trier’s The Europa & Golden Heart Trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy and Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy.
Trilogies I haven’t seen (completely) yet, but plan on watching: Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy, Dario Argento’s The Three Mothers Trilogy, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, Sergio Leone’s The Dollars Trilogy and Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy.