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SIFF 2024 #4: Senior stories of laughter and tears

Our Rating

It’s refreshing to see a variety of films about aging, where older actors are front and center, not relegated to supporting role. It’s a no-brainer that people with a few years under their belts have more stories to tell, as evidenced by this diverse group of films.

Thelma (7/8)
A friend of mine laughed when I called Thelma a slow-motion action movie, but it’s true! The biggest moment of nail-biting tension doesn’t involve a gun (though there is one!), but an elderly woman walking alone across a field in an industrial area in the dark. And watching a couple of senior citizens racing down a darkened alley (well, probably trucking along at 15 mph) on a mobility scooter made me both giggle hysterically and want to tug at my hair in dread and worry. Our hero is Thelma (June Squibb), a 90-something grandma to her adoring but aimless 24-year-old grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger). When Thelma gets scammed for $10,000 cash on the phone by someone pretending to be Danny in jail, she’s so mad she decides to take it upon herself to go get the money back. Enlisting her old friend Ben (Richard Roundtree), the two set forth with determination—where it’s not so much a race against time as a race against it getting dark and people noticing they are gone. Thelma is a charming crowd pleaser full of laughs that manages to poke fun at all generations, while admirably being sensitive enough to not punch down when it might be easy to do so. Squibb is wonderfully funny in her first lead role at 94, and has a lovely chemistry with both Hechinger and Roundtree. And if it weren’t charming enough, for those of you lucky enough to have a favorite elder in your life the final scene before the credits will hit you right in the feels. (Shoot, I think I have something in my eye.)

Solitude (6/8)
SolitudeA curmudgeonly older man meets a persistently friendly kid who works their way into his heart. Yes, this is a tried and true genre, but when it works you can’t help but root for the unlikely duo. Gunnar is an older, single farmer forced to sell his isolated family farm in rural Iceland; his family’s land of generations will be flooded by a new dam. Paying cash for a flat in the city, his new surroundings are loud and busy compared to his previous life in solitude. Disarmed by the friendly neighborhood paperboy, next thing Gunnar knows the kid is coming over to play chess and look at the old man’s photo of his horse. As the boy’s divorcing parents are preoccupied with their own bickering, Gunnar fills a void as a sort of parental figure for the boy, that is until a misunderstanding threatens to blow all their world’s apart. Gunnar’s life of solitude has left him guileless in a way that is… innocent isn’t quite the word, but more open and trusting, coming from a place where people aren’t inherently suspicious of good intentions. The film is what you’d expect for a story like this, intimate and small, but with the bonus of being framed by occasional visits to the Icelandic landscape—one of my favorite cinematic things.

Memories of a Burning Body (6/8)
Memories of a Burning BodyUsing an intriguing docu-drama style, director and writer Antonella Sudasassi opens the film by dedicating it to her grandmothers and all the things that she wished she had asked them. The movie begins with actress Sol Carballo, looking like an everywoman abuela, getting prepped by a film crew. Shooting begins, then we as viewers are now within the story, with voiceover narrations of intertwining, different anonymous elder women telling their life stories about love, sex, expectations, disappointments, and their experiences as women in society. The interviews are woven into Carballo’s cinematic character—from childhood, to becoming a wife and mother, to becoming the elder she is today. Carballo is lovely to watch (much of her performance is wordless, bringing to life the stories told by the anonymous narrators). Plus, there is a fist-clenching satisfaction to see her open old photo albums to pull some pictures out in order to tear them to pieces. The film is from Costa Rica, but much of it will ring as true and personal for not only women coming of age in the 1950s and 60s, but for modern women as well. It becomes clear that some experiences of what it means to be a woman continue to resonate, for better or for worse.

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