Hopi Storyteller Doll
Selected Filmography of Feature Length Films on Aging

Robert E. Yahnke
College of Education and Human Development
University of Minnesota

Ratings : ** Recommended *** Highly Recommended ****Best Films

About Schmidt, 2002. Our hero (Jack Nicholson), a retired insurance executive, sets out on road trip after a period of grieving for his late wife, determined to stop his daughter’s marriage to someone he considers an inferior match. Rating: ****

After Life, Japan, 1998. A team of men and women are charged with helping the newly dead resolve an important task in their journey through after life. The film proposes that there are four stages in life’s journey. The first is Life, the second is Death, the third is After Life, and the fourth is Eternity. In after life the newly dead still retain all of the memories they had in life. Each person in After Life is charged with selected a significant memory from his or her life that represented a time when he or she felt happy or fulfilled. As it turns out, the human problems in after life are reminiscent of the dilemmas human beings face in life. Rating: ****

All Passion Spent, UK, 1986. In 1930 newly-widowed Lady Slane shocks her family by purchasing a suburban home north of London. She attracts new friends and is particularly close to a granddaughter. Then an old man–a good friend of one of her sons—shows up and tells her a story about his long-term affection for her, based upon one meeting 50 years earlier, and the two begin an affectionate relationship interrupted only by the old man’s death. Rating: **

Antonia’s Line, Netherlands, 1995. A woman returns to her former community after WW II, unifies a diverse gallery of misfits, generates an intergenerational matriarchal line, and restores the community through her love and courage. Rating ****

Babette's Feast , Denmark, 1987. Based on a tale by Karen Blixen, the film tells the story of the impact one woman (an émigré from France) makes upon the people of a remote religious community by preparing an extraordinary dinner from her lottery winnings as a means of thanking the community for taking her in and utilizing her skills as a former Parisian chef. Rating: ***

Brother’s Keeper , 1992. When one of four old brothers, living on a farm in upstate New York, is accused of suffocating his brother in his sleep, the townspeople rally behind the accused—as well as his two other brothers—because they cannot believe he is guilty. Eventually, the brother receives a not-guilty verdict. The filmmakers also befriended the three brothers and portray them as private people whose lives were changed by these events. Rating: **

The Butterfly, France , 2002. An old man, a collector of butterflies, befriends a girl whose mother recently moved into his apartment building. When he leaves for the country to collect more butterflies, she stows away in his vehicle, and they experience a magical adventure in the mountains as he acts as a surrogate grandfather-figure. But the world intrudes upon this idyll when the mother believes he has kidnapped the little girl. Rating: **

Central Station , Brazil , 1998. An emotionally hardened retired schoolteacher befriends a newly orphaned boy and helps him search for his absent father. Their journey takes them from Rio de Janeiro to the countryside. Rating: ****

Cinema Paradiso , Italy , 1988. A middle-aged film producer, Salvatore, reviews his life as a child in post-World-War II Italy. He recalls his friendship with an old man, the town projectionist, and this man's influence on his life both as a child and as an adolescent. After his life review, Salvatore returns to his hometown for Alfredo’s funeral and receives a final insight into this intergenerational relationship. Rating: ***

The Dresser, UK , 1983. Based on Ronald Harwood’s play, the film is one day in the life of a larger-than-life actor known only as “Sir” (Albert Finney) and his dresser (Tom Courtenay), members of a small Shakespearean troupe performing during WWII throughout England. “Sir” enacts King Lear one last time, and the dresser is bereft by the sudden death of the man to whom he has committed 16 years of his life. Rating: ***

Driving Miss Daisy , 1989. A wealthy widow (Jessica Tandy), of an Atlanta businessman is compelled to hire a chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) when her son realizes she should not drive a car anymore. After initial hostility toward the African-American chauffeur, she warms toward his presence and accepts him as an integral part of her life. The two grow old together. Rating: ***

Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, Taiwan , 1994. A widower and well-known chef raised three daughters successfully: one an executive, one a teacher, and the youngest still in school. But the daughters’ busy lives are straining the family custom of having dinner at the father’s house every Sunday. The daughters plot to find a new wife for their father, but he surprises them with his choice. Rating: **

The Field, UK, 1990. An old man (Richard Harris) believes that the field he has rented and improved upon for years should be his by right when the (owner), a widow, decides to sell. When an American shows up and purchases the land, the old man’s defiance and self-destructive rage ruins everything he cared about. Rating: **

49-UP, UK , 2005. Director Michael Apted began this documentary series in 1964 by filming several lower and upper-class English children and then revisited his subjects every 7 years. His projects represents a remarkable longitudinal study of aging, as the children he began with are now 49 years old and have experienced their educations, marriages, work lives, children, divorces, and deaths of family members. Rating: ****

Fried Green Tomatoes , 1991. An unlikely friendship between a disaffected housewife (Kathy Bates) and an old resident of a nursing home (Jessica Tandy) leads to the absorbing story of two women whose bonds of friendship were forged a half-century earlier in a small Alabama town. Rating: **

Going in Style , 1979. Three old men, bored with days spent on New York City park benches, decide one day to rob a bank—and they appear to get away with it. The film is primarily the story of the surviving friend (George Burns), who helps his two friends taste life and savor it deeply. Rating: **

The Grandfather, Spain , 1998. A rich old 19 th-century nobleman, after years spent in America, returns to Spain, visits his daughter-in-law, and makes an extraordinary demand: he has learned that one of his two grandchildren was born of an illicit affair. Thus, his honor demands that she turn over the grandchild that is his direct descendant. Rating: **

Harold and Maude , 1971. An eccentric 79-year-old woman (Ruth Gordon) befriends a lonely, confused 20-year-old son of a rich Los Angeles family. Harold is obsessed with death, loves to attend funerals, and performs bizarre and theatrical suicides—all to get his mother's attention. With Maude’s help, Harold gains insight into his identity and his purpose in life. Rating: ***

Harry and Tonto , 1973. An old man (Art Carney), evicted from his apartment in New York City, moves in with his son and family on Long Island, and then escapes to the road with his orange cat Tonto. Everywhere he turns he experiences exciting adventures and eventually resolves his wanderlust. Rating: ****

The History Boys, UK , 2006. Mr. Hector is the nickname given by his boys—who study history with him at a secondary school in order to qualify for Oxford or Cambridge. He is a larger-than-life figure who cares deeply about his students, but his headmaster fears that he is not adept at teaching the boys the real-world skills to move up to the Oxbridge set. So the headmaster brings in a former Oxford grad to assist in the tutoring. The rivalry between Mr. Hector and the new man eventually gives way to a grudging collegiality. Rating: **

The Human Stain, 2003. Based on Philip Roth’s novel, the film incorporates the life review of an old man (Anthony Hopkins), a former college Dean, who embarks on a dangerous love affair with a young woman—with a jealous husband bent on unleashing his rage against her. The old man befriends a reclusive writer who narrates the film. Rating: ***

Ikiru , Japan , 1951. This Kurosawa film tells the story of a deadened bureaucrat who receives a death-sentence—a stomach cancer—and eventually figures out a way to be truly alive during the last months of his actual life. The title means to live, and the old man accomplishes that goal by spending every waking moment working to resolve a neighborhood problem so that a park can be built. Rating: ****

Iris , UK , 2001. Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench), English novelist, and John Bayley meet, court and marry. As they approach later life, Iris is afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film tells the story of their life together and how they dealt with the progression of the disease from onset through to the first moments after Iris’s death. Rating: ***

The King of Masks, China , 1999. A childless old street performer in 1930’s China, known as “the king of masks,” is able to change masks so quickly that one mask seems to pop out from under the former mask as if by magic. But how will he pass on his craft to another generation? He purchases an eight-year-old street urchin happily sold by the boy’s father. When the old man learns the boy has been abused, the emotional bonds between the two deepen. But then comes the plot twist—the boy is revealed to be a girl. Nothing in his culture has prepared the old man for this turn of events. Rating: **

Ladies in Lavender, UK , 2004. Elderly sisters living on the coast of Cornwall before WWII have an adventure when they rescue a young Polish émigré swept up after a storm. The adventure for the younger sister (Judi Dench) is more complicated because she falls in love with the young man at first sight. Her older sister (Maggie Smith) eventually understands her sister’s dilemma and is compassionate and understanding. Rating: ***

Last Orders, UK , 2001. Four men carry the ashes of a dear friend Jack (Michael Caine) from London east to Margate to scatter the ashes in the sea. On their journey, each of the men, including Jack’s son, gains insight into his particular relationship with Jack—who was the center of their extended family group. On the same day another journey, by Jack’s wife (Helen Mirren), helps her free herself of a self-imposed obligation going back 50 years. Rating: ****

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Germany , 1997. In this Werner Herzog documentary, Dieter Dengler, a German-American shot down over Laos in 1965, tells the story of his capture and eventual escape from a Viet Cong prison camp. Herzog, who also narrates part of the story, brings Dengler back to the jungle to re-tell the story of his captivity and eventual escape. Rating: ****

Man on the Train, France , 2002. Two unlikely acquaintances meet: one an old man who has lived alone in his parent’s house in a small French city for 15 years, and the other a handsome middle-aged man in town to meet his accomplices in advance of a planned bank robbery. Rating: ***

Martha and Ethel , 1995. In this documentary two women revisit their nannies (one African American, the other German-American) and celebrate their intergenerational bonds. Rating: **

Mrs. Brown, UK , 1997. Queen Victoria (Judi Dench), bereft after the death of her husband, retreats to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight while the government awaits her return to public life. Her return is spurred by the arrival of Mr. Brown, an old family friend from Scotland, who rises to the challenge before him. Rating: **

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont , UK, 2005. Newly-widowed Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) moves to a middle-class retirement hotel, makes new friends, rejects one suitor, and delights in finding a young man who pretends to be her grandson. Rating: **

Pelle the Conqueror, Denmark , 1998. A man in late-middle-age (Max Von Sydow) emigrates from Sweden to Denmark to find work with his young son. But all he can find is a dead-end job as a farm laborer. Eventually he understands that he must remain behind while his son escapes these limited circumstances and finds his own way in the world. Rating: **

Red , France , 1994. The third of three films by Krzysztof Kieslowski based on the symbolism of the French Tricolour—the colors Blue (liberty), White (equality), and Red (fraternity). A young model in Geneva, Switzerland, befriends a retired judge, and helps him terminate his retreat from society and reconnect himself to the larger world. At the same time the judge’s interaction with the model helps her liberate herself from confining relationships and seek happiness in a new life abroad. Rating: ****

The Remains of the Day, UK , 1993. An elderly butler embarks on a journey to revisit a former housekeeper, while flashbacks tell the story of his unstinting dedication to serving Lord Darlington in this great English estate 20 years earlier (in the years before the outbreak of WWII). The latter scenes develop the frustrating relation-ship between Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) and the longtime housekeeper (Emma Thompson). Rating: ***

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. China, 2005.An old man, estranged from his son, makes a long journey into rural China to complete a task his son had always wanted to acomplish: to film a performance of a folk opera led by a famous singer. Along the way the old man has numerous adventures, and although he achieves his goals, he learns that the goals have changed as secrets are revealed. Rating: ***

Saraband , Sweden , 2003. Ingmar Bergman’s last film as a director tells the story of a woman’s (Liv Ullman) visit to her former husband now living in a cottage in the mountains. She enters a closed world filled with tensions between her former husband, his adult son, and the son’s young daughter, an accomplished cellist. She leaves feeling her former husband is unregenerate; but she appears to have made emotional progress by making this journey. The same actors appeared in an earlier version of their relationship in Scenes from a Marriage (1973). Rating: ****

Shower, China , 1999. A son visits his elderly father, who runs a traditional bathhouse, and finds himself changed by the new surroundings and by a renewed relationship with a developmentally disabled brother. Rating: **

Since Otar Left, France , 2004. Three generations of a family live a bleak existence in the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia ten years after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Their hopes are pinned on the fortunes of Otar, a son, who is studying medicine in Paris. But his death, and a deception practiced on the grandmother, leads to an unexpected resolution of this family’s crisis. Rating: ***

Solas , Spain , 1999. A mother moves in with an estranged daughter in order to visit her husband daily in the hospital. The mother struggles with her husband’s abusiveness, and the daughter faces the dilemma of an unplanned pregnancy. Their lives are changed by a friendship with an elderly neighbor in the daughter’s apartment building. Rating: ***

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring, South Korea , 2003. The cycle of human suffering and renewal is played out on a floating Buddhist temple in a remote mountain lake in this five-part film. An old monk and his student are featured in the first three sections. The novice returns alone to become the temple monk in the fourth section. Rating: ****

The Straight Story , 1997. An old man, Alvin Straight, drives a lawn mower from his small town in Iowa to visit his estranged brother in Wisconsin after learning of his brother’s stroke. On his journey he meets a variety of people, shares his wisdom, and also learns to let go of old hatreds along the way. Rating: ***

Strangers in Good Company , Canada, 1990. Seven elderly women and their bus driver are stranded in the Canadian wilderness when their bus breaks down. As they wait for help, they share their life stories (e.g., being lesbian, early widowhood, children’s deaths, sexism) that shaped who they are now. Rating: **

A Sunday in the Country, France , 1984. An old artist receives his son and his family as well as his daughter at his country place. The old man, clearly disappointed with his son, revels in any time spent with the younger daughter, who has failed at several love relationships. But in listening to his daughter, the old man finally gains an insight into how he can rejuvenate his artistic work. Rating: ***

Tea with Mussolini, Italy , UK, 1999. An unusual gallery of old women in pre-WWII Italy (during Mussolini’s reign) form a supportive community and mentor a young orphan. The film’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, based the story upon his own experiences with the women who helped raise him when he was a boy in Florence. Rating: **

Tell Me a Riddle , 1980. Based on the Tillie Olsen novella, the film portrays an old couple, estranged in their old age, the husband wanting to retreat to an old people's home, and the wife retreating to memories of her political coming of age as a teenager in Russia. When the wife is diagnosed with cancer, the couple stays with a grandchild in San Francisco. Rating: **

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 2005. The film was directed by and stars Tommy Lee Jones as an old Texas cowboy who befriends an illegal Mexican (the title character). In order to fulfill a promise made to the young man to bury his body in his hometown in Mexico, the old cowboy kidnaps the U.S. Border Agent who shot Estrada, compels the young man to dig up the dead man’s body, and then heads across the border. At the end of his journey he finds a strange and unexpected resolution. Rating: ****

Tokyo Story, Japan , 1953. An old couple visits their children in Tokyo and discovers their children really have little time for them or interest in having them stay. Only a daughter-in-law appreciates their wisdom and respects them as elders. She dedicates herself to them during their visit. The old couple return to their small town, and the family gathers around them as the mother dies. Rating: ****

The Trip to Bountiful , 1985. Mrs. Watts, an old woman, experiences discord and disharmony in the Houston household of her son and daughter-in-law in the 1940s and dreams of one day returning to visit her home in the small town of Bountiful, Texas. One day she makes her "escape," and the film portrays her journey to Bountiful and her eventual reconciliation with her son. Rating: ***

Umberto D. , Italy , 1952. An old pensioner is left homeless and desperate when he is forced out of his humble apartment. He befriends a young woman, a servant in the building, who responds to him with respect and affection. His little dog is the most important thing in his life, and yet his desperate straits test the limits of that relationship by film’s end. Rating: **

Waking Ned Devine, UK, 1999. In this comedy three old friends stumble upon a remarkable find—their neighbor, Ned Divine, has died suddenly—clutching the winning lottery ticket from the Irish National Lottery. As the three old men plot with members of their small, tight-knit community to share the winnings, the promise of sudden wealth changes their lives. Rating: ***

Wild Strawberries, Sweden, 1960. In this Ingmar Bergman film, Isak Borg, a retired physician, makes a journey to the university in Lund, Sweden, to receive an honorary award. Along the way, he confronts some unresolved issues from his past, is plagued by dreams and visions, and finds solace renewing his relationship with a daughter-in-law. Rating: ****

Young @ Heart, UK, 2007. This documentary features a Northampton, MA, choir (founded in 1982) that is rehearsing a new show, based on contemporary rock music (songs by Coldplay, Sonic Youth, et al). Several choir members are featured, director Bob Cilman takes them through rehearsals, and the choir experiences losses of two members during this period. The climax of the film is their Northampton concert. Rating: ***

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Filmography written by Robert E. Yahnke
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