TOKYO STORY – film group responses

The film group ‘gut’ responses to Tokyo Story. The general discussion brought out many more subjects and comments. The overall impression was that the film was very relevant to our times.

  • Sadness on the part of the father- just realising what he has lost. Anger with shige
  • and her husband for their ‘carlessness’ of their parents and their offishness.   Noriko is kind to her in-laws and probably did not have a happy marriage. The harshness of the New Tokyo. The opposites of the timescales of the lives of parents and children.
  • Utterly beautiful . So true and universal. Moving and tough -provoking. Unforgettable.
  • The often disconnections of family. Excellent black and white photography.
  • Perfect depitcion of the intricacies of family relationships. Touch of King Lear about it in that the daughter -in-law was the nicest of the children.
  • tradition and modern dress. Figures placed deliberately hierarcally.
  • Lyrical film with great expression of deep emotions both positive and negative, mainly conveyed by facial and body language. The film depitcts real intimacy between Noriko (the daughter-in-law wife of the dead son) and the mother, very tender poignant scenes. The hand of the auteur can’t be missed in the long shots , the sudden insertionf of industrial scnes. The music is western but totally appropriate.
  • Very moving and philosophical on old age, children’s lives and work taking them far away to Tokyo, leaving little time or space (work/own children) for caring for their children. Loneliness all bearable when the older couple had each other.
  • Shows selfishness opposed to duty. Sadly the need for the parents to thank their children for taking care of them.
  • Sad reflection on post industrial societies. The attenuation of family ties. The need to move to the cities for work and the perception that there  no time for the older generation is a sorry thought.


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I recently obtained access to an academic library. Having a little time on my hands I decided to explore the subject of the representation of older women in films. The first article I came across is from Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film Cultures (2015). Lucy Bolton’s chapter The Intertextual Stardom of Iris: Winslet, Dench, Murdoch, and Alzheimer’s Disease, delighted me. At long last a paper that asks the right questions about a whole film and not an isolated part of it. After a detailed analysis of all the aspects of the film she asks:

At the forefront of this is the matter of whose perspective is being shown and whose voice is being heard. Then there is the question of which elements of the woman’s life are foregrounded – biographical, psychological, or intellectual – and whether the camera’s gaze is a pathologizing one. Iris grimly illustrates how a star persona can be hijacked by a social concern or cultural preoccupation.

Things have changed while I was not looking. When I started being interested in the representation of old women in films the research literature was sparse. Some images and scenes were used to illustrate an argument or confirm a film theory, and there were generalised statistics about old women stereotypes.
Although Bolton addresses a specific film about a writer and philosopher and celebrity actors, the questions she asks can be applied to all films featuring an old woman. Had we had these questions in mind, I think that our discussions in the film group would have been much richer.
Notes on a Scandal
I remember clearly coming out of seeing the very popular and well reviewed Notes on a Scandal feeling disturbed by its sexism and ageism. A member of the film group was also there. She said “I loved it”. I retorted “don’t you think it was ageist?” Her reply is one that I often hear : “but there are people like that”. I did not write about Notes on a Scandal but referred to Daphna Baram in the Guardian who expressed my feelings better than I could.

When the members of the film group worked on the paper British Films 1997-2006 we all found The Mother and Notes on a Scandal profoundly misogynistic and ageist. But we differed on Iris. Some women thought that the very good exposition of Alzheimers disease was all the more tragic affecting a writer and thinker. Other women thought that the film contrasted the young Iris Murdoch with the old Iris without stressing her life as a writer and philosopher.

I think that Bolton’s questions applied to the highly popular films featuring an old woman: The Mother, Iris, Cloud Nine, MidAugust Lunch, Le Week End, would give us more understanding of ageing and ageism issues than the adulating reviews about the old woman ‘still doing it’ of The Mother and Cloud Nine.

A film image, clip, sequence isolated from its context can support a variety of contradicting arguments. Reviews, often sexist, prime us to look for the features described and we dismiss important elements of the film. To be critical of the representation of old women in film it is most important for old women viewers to ask:

– whose perspective is being shown and whose voice is being heard?
– which elements of old women lives are foregrounded
– what do the mise-en-scene, the camera gaze, the dialogue, the music express?
– what do the critics and reviewers say.

– Does the film challenge or collude with the general sexism/ageism of the industry? 

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Grief and Guilt -The Straight Story and Manchester by the Sea

Again a brief post that does not deal with the representation of old women in feature films but since I wrote about The Straight Story (1999) 5 years ago  I will consider Manchester by the Sea (2016).

I find I have no time at the moment to analyse these two remarkable films and compare and contrast them. I remarked on my blog about Chronic how the back story of the main protagonist is redundant, irrelevant and manipulative. The two films above demonstrate how good directors, Lynch and Lonergan use the same back story to produce great films.

In both we have a man who lives with the grief and guilt of having been responsible for the death of own grandchild /children.  In SS the man is old and terminally ill, disabled by age and lives with his daughter whose children are in care. In MBS the man is young estranged from his wife. In both films the natural environment beautifully filmed is part of the story. In both films the reason for the tragedy is the abuse of alcohol  by the grandfather (and or his brother  – here there is ambiguity in the Lynch film)  and in  MBS alcohol and drugs. In both films children die in a burning house and this is of extreme visual emotional power.

What interest me is the differences between the two films:

1-  The way the memory of the burning house is expressed in the two films:  Lynch deals with the loss of control and powerlessness that the grandfather felt, while flashbacks take us to the father looking at the actual event in MBS.  They deserve detailed analysis.

2- The differences between the young man and the old man of lived grief and guilt about a past tragic event.

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HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971) 46 years later


I first showed the film (on VHS?) to a group of my friends around 1999 on the recommendation of one of the women. She mentioned that she saw it with her sons and they found it hilarious. My reaction at the time was rather negative and although I liked the black humour scenes I did not relish the sequences involving car/police chases and I found Ruth Gordon’s mannered acting irritating. Around 2010 with a new membership of the film group and the release of a dvd I saw it again. This time I took more notice of its social satire and inventive cinematography (more of this in the next post)
This year there were 10 of us.
– I felt from the beginning that it would not have a happy ending so could not laugh.
– Black comedy which shocked, anarchy without responsibility but its message of find your own way to expressing yourself has much to be said in its favour in a society (U.S.) which in the 70s demanded conformity. I really laughed hard at many of the incidents, found the attachment to each other tender, poignant and in the end doomed to disappointment so she took the brave way out. I noted she was concentration camp survivor so had determined to live different kind of life. At times a fantasy, At the end I did not expect him to kill himself so I was not surprised he survived – that honoured what she taught him -LIVE. I really enjoyed it all even when I was shocked by the first “hanging”.
– Very funny and iconoclastic . Redolent of the youth culture of the period. Great film.
– While I ‘got’ what the film was about I did not find it particularly funny.
– Wonderful performance by Bud and Ruth with her anarchic spirit overcoming his nihilistic tendencies. Great antidote to militarism and nationalism – a positive ending, choosing when to go.
– I found the film uplifting and life affirming (although not funny, in the way others in the group did!). I first saw it when I was aged about 16, the age Harold is meant to be, and that was 45 years ago, so I’m now closer to Maude’s age. So my thoughts about how old Maude is, feel different now. But a message of ‘seize the day’ or ‘if you want to sing out sing out’ is relevant at any age.
– A fairy tale – and the reason why I did not mind her unstoppable ‘life-fulness’. I didn’t realise in my first viewing that she was a holocaust survivor. Very funny – laugh out loud film. The mother was amazing. Liked it more this time.
– Dark humour – hilarious. We fell in love with her too. So an impossible love is entirely possible. Of its time . Life affirming
– The film brought up a lot of feelings for me especially Maude’s background.

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Caramel (2007)

The film group film this month was Caramel. I had presented it in 2011 at the Lexi cinema to a general audience at the U3A matinée. They loved the film. On release in 2007 the critics and reviewers were in the majority very positive and it was distributed internationally. I was surprised by the variety of responses of the film group this month.
– It represents well the of diversity of Lebanese society.
– Lebanese Steel Magnolia
– Have there been any changes in women’s oppression in the last 10 years?
– Slow
– Waiting but nothing happens
– Boring.
In the subsequent discussion however the details of the lives of the women, society pressures and their solidarity and friendship were commented on.
I find it difficult to be objective about the film as I lived in Beirut in my formative years and understand Arabic. I appreciate its realism and enjoy its very special humour.
It has been described as a chick flick, a romantic comedy, but under the light-hearted surface lies an acute observation of the difficulties of women’s lives, their solidarity and resilience, the way they confront pressures with wry humour.
The title sequences set the mood by showing the preparation of the mixture of sugar and lemon that makes the caramel. The sweet and sour concoction can be eaten but is painful when used as a depilatory paste.  The action takes place mainly in a beauty  salon called ‘si Belle’ in a modest part of Beirut. The B letter is seen hanging lopsided on the facade. The clientele and the beauticians are ordinary people.
The film deals with two groups of women and their problems. The beauticians are young. Love and relationships are the driving emotional force. For the other group it is ageing that is the main issue.
Layale (writer/director Labaki) is Christian. She is the owner of the modest salon. She lives in a small flat with no privacy. An affair with a married man dictates her behaviour. She leaves her clients at the sound of a car horn or a phone call to make love in his car parked in a waste ground. To celebrate his birthday she has to search for a hotel but her booking is only accepted in a dingy one that prostitutes use. She spends the day cleaning and decorating the room but the lover does not appear. Her friends come to the rescue and they enjoy the birthday cake together.
Nisrine is Moslem. She is engaged and soon to be married with a conventional Moslem man. She is welcomed by his big traditional family. Before her visit she has to transform her appearance from a modern dressed young woman to an all concealed body. On the eve of her wedding, in a touching mother/daughter talk she is given advice on sex in veiled terms: “don’t be shy…. you will get used it”. But Nisrine is not a virgin.
The third worker in the Salon is Rima. She takes care of technical problems and duties that involve physical strength. In erotic hair washing scenes it is obvious that she fancies her repressed client with beautiful long black hair who comes back a few times and finally has a liberating haircut. Both Nisrine and Layale recognise that Rima is lesbian without actually expressing it.
The friendship of this group is expressed through their acting and especially the way they look at each other in an understanding way without words.They also have supporting roles in each other’s lives. Layale is tricked into visiting the wife and home of her lover. This will lead to her giving up on him. Here we see the class difference between the working women of the Salon and the more affluent client. Nisrine in a hilarious scene where she pretends being French is accompanied to the clinic where she is to have her hymen restored. Rima is forced to accept a beautification session to attend Nisrine’s wedding celebrations.

The three other main characters raise the issues of the effect of ageing on women. Jamale, a divorced mother of two is menopausal. Her ex-husband neglects his children in favour of his new partner. An over-the-top performance recalls some of Mike Leigh’s middle-aged women characters. Her work as an actor depends on her looks. She makes a big fuss about her hairstyle at the Salon. At an audition for a commercial she fakes a blood stain on her dress to indicate that she still has periods. Also in the presence of young women in the toilet queue at Nisrine’s wedding she indicates that she is menstruating. (I think it is the only film scene where menstrual blood is mentioned.)
Rose the older seamstress lives and works next door to the Salon. She is called Auntie by the beauticians as is the custom in Lebanon. She is quite close to the three women. She refuses the offer of free hairdressing until a French man who came for some alterations to a suit asks her out. But the responsibility of looking after her dementing older sister makes her abandon all hope of escape.
Lilly lives in a past love relationship and is part of the street life. She collects bits of paper, and car parking tickets  as billets doux. In a scene she over makes up her face in mockery of her sister getting ready to meet her date. In her dementia she is very manipulative, she devises effective ways to prevent her sister from meeting the French client. Both Rose and Lilly are devout Christians.

The men are next to insignificant. The married lover is not seen at all. The local traffic policeman in love with Layala, initially teased by the young beauticians, gets together with her at Nisrine’s wedding. The older Frenchman admirer of Rose, the damaged shop sign of the salon and the use of French in the most hilarious scenes satirise the French  speaking of some of the middle classes of Beirut.

Nisrine’s wedding is the occasion of a joyous Lebanese celebration in the open background of the mountains. Rima’s poem, singing, dancing, and Layala with her policeman gives us the feel good effect. But the slight narrative of this slice of life film leaves us with many questions on the fate of these working women who live in Beirut and show resilience in coping with the many restrictions they have to face in their lives.

The film ends with a long shot of Rose and Lilly walking away down the street. A touching end where we see Rose picks up precious bits of paper from the floor and gives them for Lilly to cherish.  .



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A member of our film group sent me a link to an article by Tom Lamont.

The 21st. century has seen a revolution in how we consume cinema, from streaming a movie the day it is released to forking out for a plush boutique experience. How did we get here and how do we navigate the new landscape ?     As traditional behaviour has changed, so has tradition: that well-grooved route for a movie,  for instance, from cinema to DVD to telly, is now crisscrossed and complicated by internet-enabled detours.

I tried to read further but I must admit that I gave up and skimmed the rest. I am not interested in this young man’s account of viewing Woody Allen’s films and his history of modern ways of viewing.

Yes THAT IS IT – I admit it I am old, all used up, elderly, old fashioned, intolerant.

I am over the hill. Yes but I refuse to look at films as a side dish one consumes as entertainment during a night out, or as a private pleasure in the intimacy of a comfortable home or indeed on-the-go on a mobile phone. At the age of sixteen I used to read Andre  Bazin’s intelligent reviews and searched everywhere to obtain a copy of Les Cahiers du Cinema. I grew up going to the cinema in a group and discussing and arguing the meanings of scenes, of shots, of messages. I grew up viewing Westerns in popular cinemas where the whole audience shouted encouragement to the goodies and hissed the baddies. I grew up seeing foreign films in small halls as precious work of art.

And in spite of the streaming, the DVDs, the renting, the outdoor screenings, I still believe that films are to be viewed in company, when the sharing of feelings and thoughts are part of the experience. Where a different perception enriches one’s own. I still think that films are best seen when they are just released so that we oldies do not forget them and are able to talk about them with our friends.

There are all over the country small groups of people organising group clubs and sessions who insist on getting together to see films, learn about films enjoy this wonderful art. Our U3A has two film groups. Our community library shows a film every week: the classics mainly but they also have children sessions. (Unfortunately the adult screenings are scheduled for the evenings. Why aren’t old people catered for I ask myself? going out in the evening is not easy if you live on your own with no transport.)

I come back to Lamont  who  uses two French words to talk about independent and or small screen cinemas: Bijou and Boutique. A quick google search – French and English sites – does not inform me on the definition of these two words in this context. Lists of the best ones differ markedly.

Lamont choses the Lexi as one of the best 5 ‘boutique’ cinemas in the country. On Sunday I went with my partner and daughter to the early evening screening of A United Kingdom. It was evident that some of the people in the auditorium knew each other. The cinema is obviously a local cinema where the viewers conversed at the bar before the screening and probably would do so about the film after the screening. The cinema is run with the help of volunteers and all profits go to charitable projects. It is good to see friends at a screening and to know that one is contributing to a charitable cause. But I am upset that the Lexi does not advertise more clearly its matinees and subtitles* sessions or the fact that once a month the local U3A (University of the Third Age) meets to view and discuss the film.** There are no wireless audio-description headsets for film that have the facility and I still do not know if there is a working induction loop.

For a screen with good accessibility see The Phoenix in Finchley a ‘community’ cinema. A screen with a long history and real care of its audience.

*(for the hard of hearing)

**These sessions are open to everybody and are at reduced price.

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The Barbarian Invasions (2003)

Not a film about an ageing woman but about a man dying of cancer. How come all the praise, the awards, the commercial success and the admiring critiques and reviews,

I tend to agree with Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian 20/02/2004) and not waste my time:

grotesquely overpraised,   Everything is shot through with middlebrow sophistication, boorish cynicism, unfunny satire, a dash of fatuous anti-Americanism and unthinkingly reactionary sexual politics – all of which utterly cancels out the movie’s final petition for sympathy on behalf of its leading character, Rémy (Rémy Girard) the left-ish academic womaniser from the original film.

More than this all the characters are conceited, smug, pompous, crass. But what infuriated me in this highly gendered film is the nasty sex talk,  the underlying sexism and the tear jerker end…

I must admit one image that I found truthful is the messy, chaotic hospital atmosphere. A thought experiment: replace  Remy by  a woman in the last days of her life.







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