AND IF WE ALL LIVE TOGETHER
France, 2011, 98 minutes. Colour.
Guy Bedos, Daniel Bruhl, Geraldine Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Claude Rich, Pierre Richard.
Directed by Stefan Robelin.
Daniel Bruhl plays Dirk, a young PhD student who wants to come to Australia to do ethnological studies of the aborigines. His girlfriend does not want to travel, so he agrees with former university lecturer, Jeanne, to study elderly Europeans, especially in France. So, he becomes the stand-in for the writer-director who wants to offer a portrait of five people in their 70s who begin to find it difficult to live at home or independently (health, dementia, mobility…) and decide that they will move into one couple’s home and live together. They think it is far better than a home for the elderly (which don’t look too good in this film either).
A good part of the interest in the film is in its cast, all of whom have had long and successful careers. The three French actors were in their 70s when the film was made and have been in films for decades. Claude Rich has had many a dramatic role as has Guy Bedos. The surprise for non-French audiences is to see that famous comic and farceur of the 1970s and 80s, Pierre Richard (The Tall Blond Man with the one Red Shoe and other comedies) who has worked continually but is here seen in a more serious role (with one or two comic lapses, especially for Dirk’s video of them all). The two women are better known worldwide since Geraldine Chaplin appeared in Doctor Zhivago and Jane Fonda is, well Jane Fonda, now looking very poised and dignified (Barbarella was a long time ago) and showing the benefits of aerobics into the mid-70s.
So, the group is quite an active, articulate group. Claude Rich is an old roué photographer with a still roving eye, sometimes unsympathetically lewd. And he has a past (as well as a son who irritates him with his concern, especially when he becomes ill and dependent). Guy Bedos is a social protester and has been for decades. Geraldine Chaplin is his wife (only 66 when she made this film). It is their house which becomes the centre for the five. Jane Fonda is Jeanne, the former university professor who has a terminal illness which she does not communicate to her loving husband (Pierre Richard) who begins to show signs of dementia.
The film offers a lot to think about in terms of getting old, dependent, and many unwilling to face these realities. There is pathos in the lives of the five, especially concerning illness and bewilderment as senility sets in. The five are not exemplary in their lives which makes them more ordinary despite the high profile cast. The film will probably challenge a lot more thoughts and emotions from the generation of sons and daughters who are facing the prospects of care for their ageing parents.
Some of it is amusing, some sad. And Dirk, when he is with the old people, is a strong part of the group but his personal story and the facile solution to his relationships, is much less interesting. But, there is also something about the film that makes it less impressive than it might have been, especially when one thinks of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It is not quite compelling as it might have been, despite the performances. So, there is more room for another film on this important topic.
1. A film about the elderly? The elderly in France, Europe? A universal theme?
2. The French city, the town itself, homes, parks, hospitals, cafes? Authentic feel? The musical score?
3. The veteran cast, their careers, their personalities, their ages?
4. The focus on ethnography? Dirk, his study, going to Australia, the Papua New Guinea stories? Research in Europe? Jeanne and her advice? His research, observations, living with the group, sharing their experiences with them, the interviews? His confidence, his intervening in their lives, helping? Jeanne and her talks and encouragement?
5. The old people, the couples, those living alone, old age needs, illness, companionship, the beginnings of dementia? The benefits of living together, the disasters in living together – the overflowing bath, the need for refurbishment...?
6. The introduction to the group, the particular characters, their daily activities, occupations, their meetings, their friendships over forty years, their sharing?
7. Claude, his photography, aged seventy-five, his birthday celebration? In his darkroom, his preoccupation with women, sexual behaviour? His talk, with the other men? The news of his past affairs? The episode with the prostitute? His heart trouble, on the stairs, taken to hospital? His son and his concern? Claude and his disregard for his son? The friends, their visits to the hospital? The need for Claude to go to an institution? The friends, their visit, his disgust with the food, his impatience, their abducting him? The plan to live as a group? Jean and Annie and their house? Coping? Claude, the issue of sex, urging Dirk to buy Viagra, the outing, waiting for the prostitute, his son’s arrival? A likable man or not? Credible or not?
8. Jeanne and Albert, as a couple, married for more than forty years, her work at the university, his Jewish background, his stories about the war, his father’s death? Albert and the onset of dementia? Jeanne and her visits to the doctor, her terminal illness, tearing up the documentation, not telling Albert? Albert seeing the doctor, his realisation of what was happening, writing in his diary? The concern, Jeanne and her wanting the group to live together – for Albert’s safety after her death? Jeanne and her meeting with Dirk, the walks in the park, the frank discussions about sexual behaviour and attitudes, of the old? Jeanne’s poise? Albert, his age, genial, friendships, the mischievous behaviour with the video camera, his memories? His losing his memory?
9. Annie and Jean? Their demonstrations outside the apartment block, the reaction to the police? Jean and his history of demonstrations, social concern, anger over the years, absences from home? Annie, the long marriage, her drinking? Irritating each other? The invitation for people to share their home, coping, the disasters and Annie’s concern?
10. Albert, with Dirk, suspicious of him, looking for his trunk, opening the wrong one, the letters, the discoveries about Jeanne’s affair with Claude? Not wanting to believe? Not confronting Jeanne? Then discussing it with her? The bond and forgiveness?
11. Annie and Jean, the letters, the truth about Annie’s affair, the reasons, Jean’s absence? Their talking together? Albert and his forgetting and forgiving? Jean and his anger against Claude?
12. Life in the house, the putting in of the new pool, the huge delivery of meat, Albert and the bath and the overflow, watching television at meals? The others having to cope?
13. Albert and his bewilderment, growing concern, suspicions of Dirk, Jeanne going out, his confronting Dirk, taking Dirk to examine the case? Relying on Dirk?
14. Jeanne, the doctor, her death, the scene of her picking out her coffin, the funeral, her wanting a display, everybody drinking champagne? The sudden appearance of Albert and Jeanne’s daughter?
15. Bernard, his concern for Claude, coming to the gate, Annie and her hosing him down and sending him away? At the funeral?
16. The seeming lack of family for most of the group – and then the funeral, Albert’s daughter, suddenly the grandchildren for Jeanne and Albert, playing at the pool? The grandparents enjoying it – but finding it wearying?
17. Dirk, Soraya coming to work, his confiding to Jeanne about the kind of woman that he liked, his girlfriend, her not wanting him to go to Australia, not wanting him to be on the project, his concern, Soraya and her appearance, the sexual encounter?
18. The end, Albert looking for Jeanne – and everybody combining with him, calling out to find Jeanne?
19. A film for an older audience? Empathy with the characters or not, their situations? The film for the next generation considering parents and care?