Rob Edelman: Seniors On Screen

Apr 29, 2013

Films like AMOUR, QUARTET, and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, all released last year, examine the lives and dilemmas of senior citizens. All were high-profile, but they are not the only current films whose characters are coping with old age.

I recently caught up with two such titles on DVD. Both also had theatrical play in 2012. ALL TOGETHER is a French film which centers on five longtime friends, two married couples and a single male, who decide to live communally. LATE BLOOMERS spotlights a sixtysomething married couple, whose ages make them youngsters when compared to the characters in the other films.

All these films are linked in that they explore a range of issues relating to seniors. Collectively, they pose some pertinent questions as a number of their characters deal with keeping physically fit and mentally alert. On a more personal level, in relation to an individual character’s past, how does he or she cope with feelings about lost opportunities, chances never taken, happiness denied? In relation to the present, how do these characters deal with the reality that they are much closer to the end of their lives than to their youth?

Another theme in these films is relationships, and what it means for one person to be devoted to another for a lifetime. Now granted, you’ll find characters who, well, never grow up. One of them is in ALL TOGETHER. He is a lusty male who never has made a commitment to a woman. He regularly sleeps with prostitutes, and he photographs them. In so doing, he is thumbing his nose at his own mortality by sleeping with younger women and capturing images that are frozen in time.

But other characters-- perhaps the most memorable are the two central ones in AMOUR-- are life partners. Collectively, these films keep reminding us that you can love someone deeply and truly, and be a devoted life partner, but the hard fact is that you or your loved one inevitably will pass away first. And so, how will you manage when your life partner is no longer alive?

While watching ALL TOGETHER and LATE BLOOMERS, I was struck by the irony that a number of their stars are the offspring of celluloid royalty. LATE BLOOMERS features Isabella Rossellini, who is the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. Two of the five senior actors in ALL TOGETHER are Geraldine Chaplin, the daughter of Charlie Chaplin, and Jane Fonda, making her first appearance in a French-language film in four decades, whose father is of course Henry Fonda.

These actors have long been in the spotlight and, on one level, we still can think of them as the children of screen legends. But they themselves no longer are young. Jane Fonda, for example, is decades past playing the young wife in BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, the sexy, futuristic adventuress in BARBARELLA, and the prostitute in KLUTE. Time marches on, even for the famous-- and even for the hunks and babes of the world who just may delude themselves into thinking that they will remain eternally young. And while watching these actors, I was struck by the fact that all of them look their ages and are playing characters who are around the same ages as they are. How refreshing.

Are ALL TOGETHER and LATE BLOOMERS great films? Well, I will have to admit that they are not. But they at least address deep, personal issues that are faced by those in late middle-age and beyond. This in its way is daring and special, in that they are the products of a culture and an industry which too often caters solely to the young.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of  Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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