★★★★ - CHICAGO TRIBUNE
- One hundred is the new 70, or maybe even the new 60, or …
You decide for yourself after watching a stunning and delightful documentary titled "Older Than Ireland."
The film will introduce you to 30 people who are 100 years old (or older) but as full of life as any crowd you might find this side of Lollapalooza.
The people interviewed — 22 women and eight men — by writer/director Alex Fegan offer their thoughts and feelings about a variety of topics and all seem fully in possession of their marbles.
All were born before Ireland gained independence from Britain and some can recall the brutality not only of their schoolteachers but of the Black and Tans, the British troops who suppressed dissent. A few recall seeing the flames in Dublin during the Easter Uprising of 1916. And one man, 102-year-old Jackie O'Sullivan, may be the only living person to have met Irish leaders Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera. He remembers them too.
This is not, however, a history lesson. Most of the memories and stories are very personal, such as the woman who recalls, with a twinkle in her eye, sneaking out of her parents' house to go to dances and steal her first kiss, adding, "We had our moments of romance. … But moral standards meant a lot." Perhaps, but another says, "Sex … now that was good." Another shows us the aged tiny shoes that her father bought her when she was a barefoot child.
Director Fegan shows great respect for his subjects, never intruding on their words. And those words, delivered in lilting accents, benefit greatly from unobtrusive subtitles. You really wouldn't want to miss a word, even about such seemingly mundane topics as the coming of electric lights, which prompts one woman to say, "You could see every bit of dirt in the house!"
He films them mostly in their homes or in care centers, but also leading their lives at the grocery store or at the beauty parlor, where one woman getting her hair done says, "Style was everything to me." One man, Dr. Jack Powell (101), talks about having retired from his veterinary practice at 98 and, sitting in his car, about being eager to renew his driver's license, claiming that his many decades on the road have made him safer than most others behind the wheel.
We listen to people recall impoverished childhoods and what it was like to see their friends and family members move away to the United States in the early 20th century. One of those, 113-year-old Kathleen Snavely, the oldest Irish citizen on record, has lived in New York since emigrating in 1920 with $25 in her pocket. She obviously did well in her new country. In 2000, she gave $1 million to Syracuse University.
If you come to this film seeking the secret of longevity, you will not find it, unless you consider such pronouncements as "I never ate a vegetable in my life" useful. Or care to follow the lead of Esther "Bessie" Nolan who, at a charmingly outspoken 103, smokes cigarettes enthusiastically on camera.
As well, if you are looking for the meaning of life, you will not find it here either. Asked about that very thing, a nun says, "That's a tough one."
But the modern world does not seem to confuse or confound these folks. As one man says, "Times have changed, and they got better. No, I don't have any Google or Twitter, and no mobile phone, by the way. But I'm bloody glad to be mobile myself."
Certainly these people have lost those they loved, and that's either tragic ("When she died, I died") or just fine ("I can honestly say that I don't miss him" or "I don't think I really loved my husband"). No one in this film expresses any fears of the inevitable, though one does say, calmly, "When I go to bed, I wonder, will I see morning?"
They have all seen more than their share of mornings and times good and bad.
This film, which premiered in Ireland late in 2015, has justifiably won a number of awards. It's a glorious film, in large part because it is a reminder of in what low regard we often hold those of "a certain age." You'll come out of the theater full of respect and admiration for these people. You will also realize that some of them may no longer be alive (Snavely, for example, died last July) and so relish more deeply their moments of cinematic immortality. And perhaps you might also be put in mind of John Prine's sad lament about old age, "Hello in There," which ends with these words:
So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."
- CHICAGO TRIBUNE