Films about old age are all the rage right now, so it is a good time to be an older actor. Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtney and Billy Connolly make us smile and sigh, and smile again in Quartet, while Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Emmanuelle Riva bring real star-power to Amour, a film nominated for several Academy Awards.
But when my 83 year-old friend Jean leaned across the table at lunch on Wednesday to tell me she had just seen the most wonderful film about old people, I was pretty sure which of the two movies she had in mind. It was Quartet, of course. We proceeded to enumerate all that we loved about the film --- from to the setting, to the music, to the cast.
I did not ask her about Amour. I did not say "Did you see the other movie -- about the devoted husband and his dying wife? Where the daughter is distraught because her elderly, declining parents are determined to age in place? The film that ends in euthanasia?"
Nope. Didn't go there. For that matter, I haven't yet gone to Amour, either. And why not? In spite of its dark themes, Amour won the Palm D' Or at Cannes. It is nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscar and Best Picture. Emmanuelle Riva, at 85, is a Best Actress hopeful. Surely, these accolades are sufficiently convincing? But I can't help remembering Riva in her youth when she won acclaim for Hiroshima Mon Amour, and I loved Jean-Louis Trintignant in A Man and a Woman. Now they are old, and their characters are ill and dying. This is all too sad.
Amour, I fear, is a bit too much like real life. Younger viewers may view it more dispassionately. They will moved by the devotion of the aged lovers, but they will probably not imagine failing (and possibly suicidal) parents and grandparents. I am very much afraid that I will see this film and be compelled to think of my friends, myself and my husband.
But tonight, as we drove some friends to the symphony, Linda (who is my age) gushed from the back seat, "I have just seen the most sublimely perfect movie -- Amour. Lovingly crafted. Superb acting. Those Oscar nominations are well deserved!"
Oh dear. I may have to see this film, after all.
But preparation would be required. And realistically, for me, this is not a challenge. I could simply pay more attention to the older couples at the retirement/nursing home where I volunteer. I could watch the husbands and wives in wheelchairs and walkers, and try very hard to see only a Lifetime of Love in the abstract, and not the specifics of Bruce and Nancy 15 years from now. I could have another conversation with "Hetty" whose husband no longer knows her and lives upstairs in the dementia unit. Thus inured, I could perhaps watch Amour without crying my eyes out in the back row of the theatre or resorting to several fingers of Bruce's whisky when I got home.
And if my ploy is unsuccessful, at least I know an antidote: a couple of hours spent watching Quartet again. There is nothing as cheering as a good dose of optimistic fantasy.