"Getting old ain't for sissies" Bette Davis once famously declared, and both out writer-director Thom Fitzgerald's Cloudburst and writer-director Michael Haneke's Amour vividly attest to the veracity of Davis' statement, albeit from very different perspectives.
Fitzgerald's movie, driven by star performances from Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker, is much lighter in tone, helping the medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar while Haneke's film, winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes and drawing raves for its performances and sumptuous photography, is much more soberingand much closer to real life. Both filmsalong with the forthcoming Quartet (Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut), the story of four opera singers reuniting for one last performance in a nursing home for classical musicians and the recent DVD release of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotelcertainly point out a growing trend toward movies focusing on characters dealing with life during the sunset years.
It's nice to seeas in Cloudburstthat LGBT senior folks are part of this cinematic mix. The movie, which began as a play in Fitzgerald's native Canada and which has been an audience favorite on the queer festival circuit over the last yearis screening Saturday, Jan. 12 as the kickoff for the tenth season of Dyke Delicious, the popular lesbian-themed screening series held the second Saturday of every month at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St. The evening, which Sharon Zurek's Black Cat Productions and Reeling are co-presenting, begins at 7 p.m. with a one-hour social period followed by the 8 p.m. screening. (The movie is also screening tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7:30pm at Columbia College's Hokin Hall, 423 S. Wabash Ave., as part of the Chicago Filmmakers monthly screening series.)
Cloudburst follows the adventures of Stella (Dukakis), a tough old bird if there ever was one, and her lover of 31 years, Dotty (Fricker). After Dot has an accident and winds up in the hospital temporarily, her granddaughter decides to put Dot in a nursing home and sell the home she shares with Stella in Bangor, Maine. Stella, mad as hell and as profane as a truck driver, isn't about to be separated from sweet, legally blind Dotty. After rescuing her partner from the nursing home, Stella and Dotty head for Canada to wed, in the hope of bringing some legal standing to their relationship.
With k.d. lang blaring from the speakers in their red pick-up truck, the two head off in what is a sort of geriatric Thelma & Louise. Like that classic female-buddy road picture, the duo pick-up a hot little hitchhiker (named Prentice, played by Ryan Doucette) who joins them in their quest. Prentice, who has the habit of removing parts of his clothing when the mood strikes, is heading home to visit his dying mother, and finds himself caught up in the constant love spats between ditzy Dotty and impatient (really impatient) Stella. The tone of the movie wrenches about nearly as much as the trio do inside the high-speed pick-up (that Stella certainly has a lead foot) and the actors struggle to keep the material, which veers wildly in tone, on track. And though certain sidebar sequences have their individual charms and warm laughsa visit to Prentice's dying mother descends into screwball comedy when his naked father mistakenly comes on to Dotty, etc.they stretch plausibility and undercut the actors' attempts to bring the characters fully to life.
But Fitzgeraldwho will be familiar to queer film audiences from previous efforts like 3 Needles and Beefcakehas written great parts for Dukakis and Fricker and these alone are worth the price of admission. With Dukakis chewing the scenery one moment, tenderly embracing Fricker the next, opining about her lust for lang and telling off the clueless granddaughter a moment later, the movie is nothing if not entertaining. There's more than a bit of Baby Jane in the loudmouth, crude Stella, who apparently has no use for manners or decorum, and there's more than a bit of Blanche in the demure, refined but quietly resigned Dotty. The two actors, expert at finding nuance and telegraphing that to audiences, bring out the best in these two women in spite of the plot lapses and odd tonal shifts. Most endearingly, you believe wholeheartedly that these two are deeply in love, and Dukakis and Fricker gift their characters with a real bond of intimacy.
Intimacy is also at the heart of Amour, in theaters this Friday and the official Austrian submission for this year's Academy Awards. But while the intimacy between retired music teachers Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant)with warmth and unnamable pleasureswill be instantly familiar to many longtime couples so, too, will the heartbreaking and often uncomfortable affinity inherent in caring for a terminally ill loved one that suddenly is thrust upon them without warning.
After Anne suffers a debilitating stroke and a surgery to clear a blocked artery goes badly, it is up to Georges, along with a series of nurses, to take care of her when she returns home from the hospital. A series of health reverses follows as Georges does his best to keep up with Anne's constants needs. By the time the couple's daughter (Isabelle Huppert) shows up, he has little patience for her tears and remonstrationsthere's no time left for regrets, miracle cures or second opinions. It's all down to days, then hours and, finally, minutes. Soon, Georges is nearly as much a prisoner as Anne is, and the couple's apartmentstuffed with music and booksbecomes as familiar and inviting to us as to Anne and Georges. The film clearly demonstrates the importance and calming effect of accustomed surroundings to the chronically ill.
Amour eschews the shared sunsets and walks on the beach, and the unspoken moments in the dark after lovemaking that we often think of as the true intimacy between couples; instead, it focuses on the moments spent in bringing trays of food and medicine, helping the loved one take a sip of water, going in and out of the bathroom and trying hard to discern when communication skills have broken downjust what the loved one desperately needs and is trying to convey. It's an emotionally devastating, deeply moving approach.
That this incredibly heartfelt film has come from writer-director Hanekenoted for his cold, flinty movies that often portray humanity at its worst (Funny Games, The White Ribbon, Cache, etc.)is perhaps Amour's greatest surprise. What's no surprise is that it will instantly resonate with a generation of gay men and women who became caretakers during the AIDS crisis and are now dealing with aging parents and significant others. Amour is a tough but rewarding film experience that honestly earns its tearsand the performances of Riva and Trintignant are revelatory.
A silent classic returns: The historic Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., is presenting a restored, colored tinted print of the 1926 Italian silent classic The Last Days of Pompeii as part of its Silent Saturday matinee series. The epically scaled movie, which features lots of decadent behavior from the citizens of wicked Pompeii before the eruption of the nearby Mt. Vesuvius wipes out their wanton ways, screens Saturday, Jan. 12, at 12 p.m. with Dennis Scott appropriately providing the dramatic music at the Music Box pipe organ. www.musicboxtheatre.com
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