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‘Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.” So wrote Philip Roth, a line much quoted in recent obituaries. But, for those of us not yet there, it’s hard to picture ourselves at 90, exiled in the land of the elderly. So the great power of this one-woman, no-budget documentary shot on the frontline of an Istanbul retirement home is its intimacy. American-Turkish director Shevaun Mizrahi has been filming at the home for years, since volunteering as a student, and she trains a sensitive gaze on the decline of old age without horror or shock. But the film’s unprobing stream-of-consciousness interviews with residents left me a little frustrated.
It’s a film that will inevitably be described as meditative – meaning it is slow and a bit random – but you can’t deny the painterly beauty of Mizrahi’s portraits. An elderly woman talks of the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915; her mother and grandmother converted to Islam, changing their names to avoid deportation, or worse.
In a studiously Beckettian sequence, two gents pass the time travelling up and down in a lift, musing on everything from life on Mars to how many telephone calls it is reasonable to expect from a daughter. Another chap of 75 proposes to Mizrahi with narcissistic entitlement: “I need somebody in my life. My life is empty now.” Mizrahi edits in fly-on-the-wall footage of unskilled labourers working on a building site opposite the home – young men at the start of their lives, looking ahead to the future.
It’s a thoughtful, dream-like film, but, in the end, I’m not sure what Distant Constellation is saying about age or memory. And I certainly didn’t feel I had earned the right to watch a man on what must surely be his deathbed, mouth moving around words that weren’t there any more.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Distant Constellation review – intimate portraits of old age | Film