Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Sunday, November 06, 2005


-- film -- reeling 2005: when i'm sixty-four

For lo! 'tis November! Which means that it is once again time for the Chicago International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival!, edition number 24..

First seen: When I'm 64, an import from the BBC. (Their site has more information about the film than the Reeling site itself.)

Paul Freeman plays Ray, a widower, a cab driver ... and a soccer hooligan. Really. At 64. Basically, he and his friends go out and have riots against other soccer club fans because that's what they've always done. Which, honestly, seems truly odd, since Ray, at least, is a responsible adult, with a job, a house, he got married, and he and his wife raised two children to apparently responsible adulthood themselves. It doesn't quite fit, but it's also not really a huge point, except to show that he's aware that his life is weirdly out of balance, and he actually knows this.

In the meantime, Jim (played by Alun Armstrong), a schoolteacher, is just retiring after spending, quite literally, his entire life at his public school. (Which is to say, what an American would call a private school. Why the British insist on calling their private schools "public' and their public schools "comprehensives", I'm sure I don't know. But I digress.) Jim plans to travel the world, heading first to Botswana ... after he gets a little nose job, because he's been called "Beaky" his entire life and kind of hates it. He calls a cab to drive him from the school to the hospital, and that's how he meets Ray. Sometime later, Ray discovers Jim's jacket in the back of his cab. Ray goes through the pockets to see if there's anything to help him return the jacket, and finds a little notebook which apparently has Jim's name in it -- there's no other explanation for how he knows Jim's last name, but it's not spelled out -- and also contains a list of Jim's post retirement goals. Returning the jacket brings Ray back into contact with Jim -- aided by a surprisingly bossy nurse -- and a very odd friendship begins. Eventually -- after a horrible event which should break things apart but somehow doesn't -- the relationship moves into something other than a simple friendship, which produces all sorts of complications.

I really liked this film. It's gentle and sort of romantic -- if something that actually is a romance can be described only as "sort of" romantic -- without being at all cloying. Alun Armstrong is really wonderful as Jim; he manages somehow to play a character who's severely limited himself most of his life ... but without seeming at all pathetic. Maybe it's because when we meet him, he's just made the conscious decision not to be limited any more, to expand his horizons while he still has time. Paul Freeman, I must say, was a complete surprise. I've seen him in many things, but only things where he's played a wealthy, erudite European -- usually British, sometimes French, frequently villanous and malevolent, and then his scheme goes wrong or he gets blowed up real good or he turns out to be merely venal and not actually evil. (OK, he gets kind of melted in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," so I guess that's evil enough for anyone.) In any event, I've never seen him play a working-class guy before, and he carried it off beautifully.

The writing and direction are very good. As structured, this relationship really shouldn't work -- different classes, very different life experiences, various prejudices -- but the writer and director make the story work without seeming at all labored. (Well, except for the soccer hooligan part, which is likely a cultural thing.) The story really seems to be more about looking for a sort of emotional intimacy than for love, per se. Those who get twitchy about this sort of thing will be thrilled to know that, aside from some kissing and a very little bit more, there's no attempt at showing the old guys in bed together. While it might have been interesting to see how they coped with the unexpected, showing bedroom scenes would have pulled the focus off the relationship, their search for intimacy, and would have made sex a focus, when in many ways, it really wasn't that important.

Highly recommended.

Posted by iain at 11:11 PM in category film