Yesterday, I watched two full-length documentaries at the Lady of the Lake Theatre. The first was a Mexican film called El ultimate bolero. It’s not the kind of film, if I were home in Victoria, that would get me out of the house and to SilverCity. Not that SilverCity would likely show it. The theatre that might show it is The Roxy, a small, old theatre on Quadra that shows a mix of the old, the new and the eccentric. The Roxy’s full name is the Roxy Cinegog. It’s a pun originated by Howey Seigel a previous owner with a great sense of humor. I love the fact that the theatre is advertised as a uniplex as opposed to SilverCity, the multiplex.
At one time, I used to go to Cinecenta, the movie theatre at the University of Victoria. It was the one place in the city where you could see foreign films. Polish films, Hungarian films, Russian films, lots of subtitles, movies that were off the beaten path, the kind that would never get shown at SilverCity. However, students are more fashion conscious these days and they want the latest, not the most exotic.
That really leaves film festivals as places to watch movies made from outside the commercial factory. Festivals are also the place to watch documentaries. For whatever reason, no matter how good they are, documentaries never have the cachet of Hollywood films. They don’t let the viewers fantasize about being a hero or having sex with the latest hunk or honey.
One of the delights of both El ultimate bolero and Meet The Fokkens is that there were no special effects. For years now, stilted dialogue, broken plots, cardboard characters, a clichéd theme have all been excused by having oh wow, fantastic, stupendous special effects. It’s a bit like eating a meal where the meat is burned, the potatoes half raw, the vegetables cooked to a slimy mess but the dessert is great.
El ultimate bolero (The Last Bolero) has a simple story line. A group of Mexican musicians, now in their late seventies and eighties, decide to have one last major concert playing the music they were famous for in their heydays—bolero. Not the Hollywood movie bolero, but the real bolero, full of love, pain and sadness. In their youth, they were handsome, beautiful, and clips from the past and still pictures capture them in their glory days. Now, they have to resurrect voices, make fingers touched by arthritis, nimble again. Not all have stopped playing and singing. Some still perform, although the main character says, for only one or two hundred people.
They are afflicted by the diseases of old age. One of them, the character at the centre of this last great resurrection of classic bolero music, is on daily dialysis. He knows that time is short. That if this last group performance is to be done, it has to be done as soon as possible.
As they prepare, we get to see into some of the pain and love in their lives. We see how brave they are to go into musical battle against time and its crippling effects. They risk humiliation. They must constantly compare their bodies now with what they have been. They are professionals. They promote their concert with the accumulated knowledge and experience of decades.
One of them says, “We are professionals. Even if only one person comes, we will perform.” But, more than one person comes. The professional opera hall is filled to capacity. The music and musicians are not forgotten. The performance is a triumph.
This is a movie for everyone but, most of all, for aging baby boomers, now on the hard side of the worship of youth.
There were a few empty seats for El Ultimo Bolero. When I came out of the theatre, there was already a line up for Meet The Fokkens. I had no idea what to expect from this movie about twin sisters who are now seventy years old, one whom retired from professional prostitution in Amsterdam’s red light district and the other still working. The shocker, the one sister retired at 68. The one still working is 70.
The movie is essentially a dialogue with the sisters and a recording of the sisters conversation with each other.
The first thing you have to do, that I had to do, was toss out all my preconceptions about what the film might be like. Kitchen sink drama, exploitation of women drama, pornography, exploration of society. Whatever you think, it is wrong.
Louise and Marten are 70 years old. They’ve worked in the red light district of Amersterdam for over fifty years. They are completely unapologetic. Their only real complaint is that when they set up a brothel, political skulduggery got the license taken away from them. People with political power and money stopped what was a good business for them.
They don’t see anything particularly intimate about sex. It is something that men need and are willing to pay for. Scenes in the room where the one sister still practices sex are all about masturbating men. They find their customers amusing. Lots of ministers, they say, lots of priests, even rabbis. The tell funny anecdotes about their clients. They go on a shopping trip for sex toys and talk about how they would work but reject all of them except one.
Did I tell you that they are 70? That they are fat? That they are likeable. That they have a great sense of humour. That they love and take care of each other?
In 70 minutes, the documentary shows us a little about life in the red light district of Amsterdam where prostitution is legal. In the glass fronted windows of the shops, lithe young women in the smallest amount of clothing possible, pose. Compared to them, Martine (is it Martine, they are identical twins), competes, knocking on her window to get the attention of men going by.
It all seems quite preposterous, given our views of sexuality and how it belongs to the young, but Martine, when encouraged to retire, says “There are men our age and they are more comfortable with women closer in age to them.”
I came away bemused, a bit confused, for the film undermined all my prejudices, pre-conceptions, not defending prostitution, but not condemning it either while presenting two women whom it was impossible not to like.
That’s what film festivals are for. To open our minds, to provide us with ideas heretofore not thought, to make us see the world through a different point of view.