Are film makers afraid to give older actors a real chance?
There are, they say, no good parts in films any more for older people, especially for women.
Writing about Amour last week got me thinking about the two stars, both of whom are well into their 80s, and the roles they play.
When older characters have been shown on screen, especially on TV, they're often portrayed as Victor Meldrew types, obsessed with trivialities and fit only to be laughed at (though honourable exception can be made of Last Tango in Halifax, which discusses significant issues, in a serious way while at the same time keeping its humanity and being amusing). But it's certainly hard to think of any film, particularly from this country, that puts older people centre stage as effectively as Amour.
Is this because Amour is a European film that attitudes are more enlightened on the continent and they have more faith in their actors? It's not for me to say but looking at some of the films Film Society has shown in recent years, I'd argue that there's enough circumstantial evidence to back that up that point of view.
Take Catherine Deneuve for example. In Potiche she plays the downtrodden wife of a factory boss who takes over the running of the business when he become incapacitated. Though it's a comedy, it has much to say about the role of the older woman in the workplace.
In A Christmas Tale, she hosts a festive gathering of her extended family, all of whom have issues with each other, and reveals she is suffering from a potentially fatal illness. As an exploration of a family plunged into crisis, it's a striking film centred on her masterful performance.
Another recent film of ours My Afternoons with Margueritte had Gisèle Casadesus, at the astonishing age of 96, starring with Gérard Depardieu and more than holding her own in a film that celebrated the importance of education,
Older men also seem to get a better deal in the European film industry. Besides Jean-Louis Trintingnant's magnificent performance in Amour, veteran French actor Jean Rochefort takes the leading role at the age of 83 in the soon-to-appear The Artist and The Model, a film about the importance of art and creativity to the human spirit.
I'm not suggesting that older British actors get no worthwhile parts. After all Judi Dench is raising Oscar talk in Philomena, a film which looks at the significant issue of illegitimacy and its associated stigmas in 20th century Ireland.
But I find it interesting that Dench's film is a UK/French co-production. Why not make it here? After all, it's clear the cinema industry recognises an ageing population is reflected in the nature of the cinema audience. The so-called 'pensioner pound' is valuable currency.
Christine Langan, head of BBC films, is reported as saying that "senior dramas often had stronger plots than traditional romantic comedies".
If you look at recent films from this country with older performers in key roles, you can see what she means. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet provided parts with substance for the likes of Dench, Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Tom Courtenay.
They were popular films that did well but I'd argue that the plots were anything but strong.
Then there was Song for Marion, an appalling piece of emotional blackmail with cardboard characters and predictable plot, and a waste of the considerable talents of Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave.
And what about Red and Red2? But what on earth is Helen Mirren doing in that claptrap (apart from having a good time and picking up the cheque)?
I deduce from this that film makers are afraid of making films that give the older actor a chance to show their real talents because the British audience don't want to see them in roles that ask challenging questions about aspects of life ( The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel did address the question of how to afford retirement but it was more fantasy than a serious exploration.)
What made Amour so striking was that both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are nearer the end of their lives than the beginning. Yet they were asked to play parts that were both intensely personal and give sensitive and believable performances too. The quality of their work was recognised in the number of nominations and awards the film picked up.
If audiences here want to see the kind of dramas that Christine Langan refers to, then two conditions need to be met: 1) more such films need to be made, and 2) British audiences should make an effort to get out and see them.
Showing at The Venue
Elysium (15): October 11 & October 12, 7.30pm. Neil Blomkamp follows District 9 with more sci-fi.
The Smurfs 2: Family Film Club October 12, 2.30pm.
About Time (12A): October 13, 2.30pm. A Richard Curtis film.
Grease (PG): October 13, 7.30pm. Great song and dance.
Roman Holiday (U): October 16, 2.30pm. Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Rome: a perfect combination and a classic film,
The Great Beauty (15): October 16, 7.30pm. Tony Servillo is superb as a decadent socialite.