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Cinema’s mature take on women’s lives

Film & TV

Susan Mitchell recommends two new films – a drama with a satirical edge starring Emma Thompson, and an erotic thriller featuring Juliette Binoche – that centre on mature-aged women determined to reinvent themselves.

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Have you noticed that there are a lot of films being made that focus on the lives of mature women? By “mature”, I mean any woman over 50.

Is it a spin off from the #MeToo movement? Is it because the largest percentage of cinema goers are mature women? Is it because there are so many excellent female actors in this age group? Is it because more mature women are entering the roles of directing, writing and producing? Is it because female baby boomers in this demographic want to see films about their own lives?

I think it’s a result of all these things, and as a member of this august group of women and the first Ambassador for Mature women in SA, I have a vested interest in mapping this literary and cinematic development.

Two of my favourite actors, Emma Thompson and Juliette Binoche, are currently displaying their talents on the big screen in, respectively, Late Night and Who You Think I Am.

Thompson has just turned 60, which means she is perfectly placed to play the role of Katherine Newbury, the only female late-night talk-show host in America (this is fiction, as late-night talk shows are still dominated by men).

Newbury has been told that she is stale and so is her show. Desperate to save it, she hires aspiring comedy writer Molly (played by Mindy Kaling, who actually wrote the script for Late Night) to join her all-white, all-male writing staff.

The men are not impressed, but Kaling counters them with the one-liner: “Just because I was lucky enough to get this job, doesn’t mean I’m stupid enough to lose it.” When her boss asks her what she thinks of her, she is bold enough to say, “a little old and a little white”.

This film is not a laugh-fest, nor is it smart-arse. It certainly has a satirical take on issues such as race, gender, ageism and double standards, but it doesn’t preach about them. It employs laughter as a subtle and powerful weapon.

Newbury is no saint. She is opinionated, arrogant, self-involved and dismissive of her staff. When she enters the writers’ room for the first time ever, she knows no one by name even though some of these blokes have been writing for her for more than 20 years. She calls them all by numbers.

Thompson gives a stellar performance, as does the support cast – especially Kaling. Don’t let this film slip through the net.

Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez) is a very different film, but it also centres around a mature-aged woman who has lost her mojo and is determined to reinvent herself by changing the narrative of her life.

Juliette Binoche, 55, plays 50-something Claire, a university professor who, having been dumped by her husband for a younger woman, adopts a fake online persona as a 24-year-old woman then becomes trapped when she falls for a younger man.

It is an erotic thriller with an intellectual twist and nobody does those better than Binoche and the French. There are no laughs, but there are many twists and turns to keep you enthralled right to the end.

Being over 50 is a tricky time in many people’s lives and can be fraught with hurdles, but these two films help shine a light on some of the answers.

Dr Susan Mitchell is an author, a scriptwriter, a broadcaster and a former academic. Her role models are Simone de Beauvoir and Mae West.


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