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Senior Citizens in Film
by Becky Tan

The Karin und Walter Blüchert Memory Foundation (Gedächtnisstiftung) has participated in the Filmfest Hamburg since 2019. This year the topic was Senior Experts (Erfahrungsträger), emphasizing loneliness among seniors, as well as their social and financial needs. Who would think that “Old Age” is a perfect topic for a festival? The Foundation favored particularly BLAGA’S LESSONS, HEAVEN CAN WAIT – WIR LEBEN JETZT, DRIVING MUM, and IN OUR DAY. I saw all four films and agree that they were excellent.

The Korean film IN OUR DAY by Hong Sang-soo introduces us to an elderly male poet Hong Uiji (Gi Ju-bong), who lives alone. The actress Sang-won resides currently with a friend and her cat. Both are visited by younger people interested in asking questions about their lives and opinions. The film switches back and forth between topics such as having a cat, needing to sleep, eating, making videos, flowers, grass, architecture, and more. And then there are statements such as “The most important thing in acting is honesty.” “Is poetry still necessary?” “What is the starting point?” “Does one write poetry when young or old?” “What is life?” “Does one really need love?” “What is truth?” It is assumed that director Hong Sang-soo created the character Hong Uiji along autobiographical lines. Both he and his actor Gi Ju-bong are in their sixties.

For more information about films featuring the elderly, see my review below: HEAVEN CAN WAIT – WIR LEBEN JETZT. Also read reviews of DRIVING MUM by Marinell Haegelin and BLAGA’S LESSONS by Pat Frickey.

Sven Halfar, Germany 2023

Heaven can Wait Chor is a Hamburg choir made up of seniors aged 72 to 96, directed by Jan-Christof Scheibe. In this documentary film of the same name, we learn more about the participants. There is Joanne, age 83, who emigrated to Germany from the USA; she is the only Black participant and the only professional singer in the group. Ingrid, age 84, always wanted to be an opera singer, but caring for her mother had priority. After her mother passed away, she had an opportunity for a “new life,” which eventually led her to the choir. Volker, age 81, is in his third marriage after working as captain on ship at sea and has been a member for seven years. Regina, director Scheibe’s mother, is a member. The songs are contemporary and in German (except two in English). The singers talk about having found a rewarding place to spend old age saying, “I don’t feel old when singing.” Or “Now I am finally free.” Or “Now is all we have.” One male singer said, “When I burst into song, I worry about my loose false teeth flying into the first row.” Filmed in their hometown of Hamburg we see the St. Pauli Theater (where they perform), the Alster Lake, Dammtor train station, Moorweide, etc.

This excellent film showed at the 31st Hamburg Film Festival, where it won the Audience Prize of 5000 Euros for Best Picture. The choir appeared live on stage and entertained us with three songs. I counted 36 members, with twice as many women as men, all dressed in orange jackets. Film director Sven Halfar said that it took three-and-a-half years to make the film, which premiered at the Munich Documentary Film Festival 2023. The second part of the title- Wir Leben jetzt - translates literally to We are Living Now. Choir director Jan-Christof Scheibe is always happy to welcome new members, so if you are 70 or older, please call 0171 8737949 on weekday afternoons for information about casting.