Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2012 4:55 pm 
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When we're 77

This quiet French drama is a light but still serious study of five older people, two couples, one single man, all great friends since the Sixties, and a young German guy hired to help when they all decide to move in together. They do, and stuff happens. That's all there is too it, really. The action is meandering, episodic, but despite an elegant restraint and a light touch Robelin delivers some keen observations of what it's like growing old. Within its limits, which never seem like constraints, the film is a representation of the dignity despite indignities that being a septuagenarian can represent. There's life in the old coots yet. Their sex drive isn't gone. Neither is their passion about things that happened forty years ago. There is not great depth or detail in the characters. But the point perhaps is precisely to present aging in a way that's both idealized and realistic. Why should not older people have models, and models of life shared in dignity with others their age? You die, but you can die with grace. Not all of this is "realistic," but maybe "realism" isn't the best way of facing life's last act. What you need is stubbornness and panache. One character is going to die soon, but she buys a pink coffin and specifies that her friends drink champagne over it.

We begin with the cast, all good looking and charmers. Therapist Annie is played by the 67-year-old Geraldine Chaplin, whose character is married to Jean (the handsome Guy Belos, 77), a long-time political activist and the one who proposes the communal living, though it will take place in the big house Annie, not he, inherited. Former Philo prof Jeanne is played by Jane Fonda, 74, showing off a fluency in French dating from her 1965-1973 marriage to Roger Vadim. This is her first French role since Jean-Luc Godard’s 1972 Tout Va Bien. All is not going well for Jeanne, who is dying of cancer and knows it but has hidden it from her husband, Albert (Pierre Richard, 77), who's beginning to suffer from dementia. Albert wanders and gets confused, but keeps a wine tasting diary in which he writes some key observations about his and his friends' lives. Claude (Claude Rich, 83), the actor six years older than any of the others, tall, the charmer and the seducer of the lot, is a photographer, a philanderer, never married, who still goes with hookers. Rich, who is rarely without his seductive smile, may be the most memorable of the lot. Dirk (Daniel Brüel of Goodbye, Lenin and Inglourious Basterds, 34), a quiet blend of awkwardness and confidence, is a German ethnology graduate student who has problems with his French girlfriend, the unseen Deborah. He changes his specialization from the old people of a primitive tribe to the old people of France to please Deborah by not having to leave France for hie field work, but then she is displeased when he temporariy leaves her and moves in with the five oldsters, to study them closely as well as assist them.

All Together has hard facts -- Jeanne is going to die, Albert is losing his mind, Claude has a heart attack and is put into a nursing home by his son -- but it is filled with pleasing but unrealistic compromises. To begin with, Albert's big wooly dog, Oscar, is taken to a kennel for adoption because it's so big it knocks Albert over and he is taken to the hospital for treatment. But Jean and Claude spring Oscar from the kennel and Dirk is hired to walk him. (Albert wasn't ever really fully aware that Oscar was gone.) The same happens with Claude. Jeanne, Albert, Annie and Jean visit him in the nursing home his son puts him in after he has a heart attack (while with a hooker) and they don't like it, so they break him out. While he was in bed there undergoing physical therapy to be able to walk again without crutches, he's up and about as soon as he's back in the house. Jane Fonda is unrealistic in herself: she looks nearly 20 years younger than her 74 years. Her frank conversations with Dirk on walks with Oscar frequently hinge on sex, and this theme, and the walks, seem pushed a bit by the filmmakers. They have a point to make, and they may also want to show off Jane. Money is not the worry it often is for older people. Albert causes major damage by flooding the house with bath water but extensive repairs are done with no mention of the cost. Claude's sexiness -- he persuades Dirk to get him Viagra and still seeks out hookers -- makes a valid point. Old men do still think about sex. But he's an idealized character. So even is Albert, whose senility seems frequently to vanish when the plot needs to move forward.

There is trivial byplay over a Annie's installing a prefab swimming pool in the back garden. Jean objects strenuously, seemingly much more conservative about landscaping than he was about politics. But it's Annie's property, and her aim is to get the grandchildren to come visit. A joyous scene with young kids splashing in the new pool finally opens up the film to other generations. Otherwise, Claude's son is the only adult child, and an unwelcome one. The film concentrates unrealistically only on the interactions of the five old people. It also glosses over the fact that Chaplin is six years younger and Rich six years older than any of the others.

Gianni Di Gregorio's Rome-set 2008 Mid-August Lunch is more casual in its action and more realistic in its old people. Michael Haneke's new Amour, the Cannes Golden Palm winner, is a far more profound, harrowing, and specific picture of a couple one of whom is dying. On the other hand while things are left out, All Together is good at representing older people striving to remain essentially themselves as they age, even to getting involved for a while in a serious conflict when two affairs from forty years earlier emerge through Albert's snooping. The idea of moving in together at once to deal with the isolation of old age and avoid an institution is noted as a trend, which indeed it is. Perhaps this appealing but somewhat superficial film is most notable simply for presenting that option for our consideration. In a world of aging populations, there need to be more movies about old people.

Et si on vivait tous ensemble? ("Suppose We All Live Together?"), 96mins., was released January 18, 2012 in France, not to very enthusiastic reviews (Allociné press rating: 2.8), but French viewers have liked it better (Allocoiné: 3.5). It went into limited release in the US Oct. 18, 2012, doing better with critics (Metacritic: 56) than My Worst Nightmare (also released Oct. 18), which requires more of a French-culture mind-set to appreciate. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New French Cinema series (Oct. 24-30, 2012).

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