EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994) at EON

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? 

 

 

 

Posted in Ageing, audience responses, death, family, FILM RECEPTION, food, intergenerational relationships, melodrama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE WIFE (2017)

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.

Posted in Ageing, ageing couple, audience responses, critics, family, Film Analysis, FILM RECEPTION, melodrama | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

THE CLOCK (Christian Marclay) Tate Modern.

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.

 

Posted in audience responses, film clips, FILM RECEPTION | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CINEMAS, FILMS AND AGEING

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.

Posted in Ageing, audience responses, classic, family, food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

FACES PLACES (VISAGES VILLAGES) (2017)

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.

 

Posted in Ageing, classic, documentary, intergenerational relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HOTEL SALVATION (2016) at EON

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.

 

Posted in Ageing, audience responses, death, family, FILM RECEPTION, food, grief | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HOTEL SALVATION (2016)

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