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.


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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. 




Posted in Ageing, Ageism, care, death, fable, family, FILM RECEPTION, grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mrs. Caldicot’s Cabbage War (2002)

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. 

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To my followers

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 <>) 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. 


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SUMMER REFLECTIONS on films featuring old women.

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.


Posted in Ageing, Ageism, audience responses, critics, death, Film Analysis, FILM RECEPTION | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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. 

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AFTER LIFE (2008)-2 . Social realism.

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.

The prostitute:
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



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