While there is no shortage of grumpy old men around, it's interesting to note how actors depict these types onscreen.
- Some, like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future and Christopher Plummer in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, portray mad scientists and crazy dreamers.
- Others, like Albert Finney in The Dresser and Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, play public figures whose fame and authority has been severely tarnished.
- Some, like Elliott Gould in Dorfman and Martin Landau in Harrison Montgomery, portray disgruntled and intensely anti-social curmudgeons.
- In 1981, Katherine Hepburn got to call Henry Fonda "an old poop" in On Golden Pond while Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn confronted each other during The Gin Game.
- In 1993, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon starred in a geriatric romantic comedy entitled Grumpy Old Men in which they lusted their new neighbor (portrayed by Ann-Margret). The film's success led to a 1995 sequel entitled Grumpier Old Men in which Sophia Loren joined in the fun.
Many end up puttering around in their garages, fixing gadgets and producing strange creations. Matt Lenski's short, The Meaning of Robots, showcases the work of the eccentric but determined Mike Sullivan (who has spent more than 10 years shooting a robot porn stop motion film in his apartment).
As you can see from the above clip, the mind is a terrible thing to waste. What happens to the minds of men who lived through the Great Depression? World War II? Often, as these men grow older, they start to act on fantasies involving adventure or revenge, determined to show "young whippersnappers" who's still in charge. Two films screened at the 2012 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival examined extreme reactions of elderly men to conflicts with members of a younger generation.
* * * * * * * * *Written and directed by Sameh Zoabi, Man Without A Cell Phone is a classic case of a curmudgeon who demands to be heard -- especially when he feels that others are encroaching upon his territory. Just like Rodney Dangerfield, Salem (Basem Loulou) feels that he "can't get no respect."
Salem is a cranky old farmer living in an Arab village near Nazareth who resents the way Palestinian-Israelis are treated as second class citizens by the Israeli government. When an Israeli telecom company erects a cell phone tower in his village, he tries to organize a grassroots protest with the slogan "Yes to Olives. No to Radiation!"
|Basem Loulou as Salem in Man Without a Cellphone|
While several of Salem's cronies are more than happy to interfere with the efforts of the Israeli telecom service, the younger generation has other things on its mind:
- Salem's son, Jawdat (Razi Shawahdeh), is a hopeless romantic who is thrilled that the improved reception on his cell phone can help him juggle his attempts at wooing several attractive young women.
- Jawdat's cousin, Muhammed (Louay Noufi), is a loyal friend who is hoping to get married so that he can finally have a sex life.
- Rana (Maysa Abd Elhadi) is a beautiful student leader who keeps urging Jawdat to concentrate on his studies as a means of getting ahead in life.
|Razi Shawahdeh as Jawdat in Man Without a Cellphone|
In his director's statement, Zoabi explains the peculiar circumstances which accompanied his film shoot:
"The inspiration for this story is grounded from personal experiences growing up as a Palestinian-Israeli; an experience that unconsciously births engaging and dramatic material. Twenty percent of Israel's citizens are Palestinians who live in segregated villages and towns throughout the country. Growing up, our own communities and schools are not integrated into the larger Israeli society. After high school, many young people flock to universities and the workplace where they must interact with the larger Jewish-Israeli population for the first time. Leaving home is a major transition and time of self discovery for young adults across all cultures, but it is particularly unique to Palestinian-Israelis who come to realize their status as second class citizens with full force. In the media, the struggle for equal rights is overshadowed by the larger political milieu of the region and is lacking in personal stories of everyday people.Salem's initial attempt to destroy the cell phone tower provokes a surprising reaction. Not only is the tower repaired, soon there are armed guards stationed in front of it. While the guards have been trained to stand their ground against any and all threats, they're not prepared to fight an angry farmer who knows how to use sprinklers as a weapon. Here's a clip from Man Without a Cellphone:
The first time a film had been shot in my hometown, Iksal, people had not seen a movie crew this close before. With the support of all of my family and friends, the experience was, unquestionably, an emotional one. In a stranger-than-fiction moment that proves film is a reflection of reality, many of the people in the town did believe that the radiation from cell phone towers does cause cancer. So when we built a cell phone tower close to the village for the purpose of using it as part of the film set, the next morning we came to the set to find it fully destroyed. People left signs saying “No more radiation and cancer.” It turned out that some people thought it was a real cell phone tower… so we had to announce during Friday’s prayer
(through the Mosque’s speakers in the village) that it was a part of the film set and it was not real. We were lucky that it happened during the pre-production phase and not during shooting. In a way, it proved how accomplished our production team was in that our tower was constructed out of cardboard but looked that real.
As a filmmaker I feel the urge to tell stories about my own community and share these narratives with the world. While the political realities are, invariably, present in the film, the story ultimately reveals an upbeat and positive tone. Man Without a Cell Phone explores all of the hopeful, frustrating, and hilarious moments that my community’s post-adolescent experience entails."
* * * * * * * * *Written and directed by Leo Khasin, Kaddish For a Friend is the kind of film that can really tear at a viewer's heart. Set in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin, it focuses on the strange story of Alexander (Ryszard Ronczewski), an old Russian Jew who survived World War II, and Ali Messalem (Neil Belakhdar), a 14-year-old Arab whose family recently arrived in town from Lebanon in an effort to escape the ongoing violence between Arabs and Israelis.
As Ali's family moves into their new apartment, they notice water dripping through the ceiling. When the teenager goes upstairs to see what the problem is, he discovers that their upstairs neighbor's washing machine has malfunctioned. After helping the old man fix the problem, he heads downstairs to tell his parents some shocking news.
Ali's father, Wadir (Neil Malik Abdullah), is horrified to learn that his family is now living beneath their worst enemy, a Jew. Determined to build a new life in Germany, he discourages his son from drawing and sketching and insists that Ali concentrate only on school and work.
It's difficult his social worker to get any cooperation from Alexander. The old man adamantly resists transfer to a nursing home and, although he presents himself to strangers as a gruff, intolerant old coot, Alexander is a former teacher who used to coach boxing. A World War II veteran, he carries the wounds of his lost loves deep inside his heart. Alexander's wife is dead. His only son (an Israeli soldier) was killed while on duty in Lebanon.
|Poster art for Kaddish For a Friend|
When Ali starts to hang out with his cousin Bilal's (Cemal Subasi) gang, he quickly becomes a target for abuse as the new kid in town. In order to prove himself, he accepts a challenge from the gang's leader, Younes (Younes Hussein Ramadan), to trash the apartment of "that old Jew." Returning home from visiting his cluster of elderly friends (who have just honored him for his years of service to their community), Alexander enters his home to find his apartment ransacked and the words "Juden=Nazi" written on the wall.
Knowing full well who destroyed his most cherished belongings, the furious man heads downstairs to confront Ali's parents. Later, when the boy's mother (Sanam Afrashteh) rings his doorbell with a peace offering and begs Alexander to show mercy on her son, he refuses her entreaties. Instead, Alexander offers a strict ultimatum: The only way he will resist reporting Ali to the police is if the boy comes upstairs and returns his apartment to its previous condition.
With his imposing physique, Alexander knows how to intimidate a scrawny young kid like Ali. But soon they find a way to communicate with each other. When Ali shows the old man a drawing he has made that reproduces the scene in one of the old photos he damaged, Alexander realizes that the boy has artistic talent.
Acting on the instincts of a retired teacher, he encourages Ali to keep sketching. As his apartment gets restored, a bond starts to grow between the bitter old Jew and an insecure young Arab. However, a problem still remains: Now that Ali has been noticed by the police, he can be deported if Alexander testifies against him.
The old man's friends insist that he do so as a means of retaliating against their enemies. But Alexander, who understands that Ali made an unfortunate mistake, believes there might be a stronger lesson to be learned from forgiveness.
|Ryszard Ronczewski in Kaddish For a Friend|
In his director’s statement, Khasin (a former dentist) explains that:
“My patients were a colorful bunch from every part of the world, including sentimental Russians stranded in Berlin and loud Arabs. But as much as I thought about them, I couldn’t bring them together until, one day, a very scared young Lebanese boy was given a nod of encouragement by an old Russian Jew. It was the birth of my heroes, two dissimilar friends who are destined to overcome the gulf between cultures.”Blessed by Ronczewski's stellar performance, Kaddish For a Friend, packs a deep emotional punch. Khasin's tenderly-crafted drama offers audiences an unexpected and deeply moving of tale of friendship, forgiveness, and redemption. Neil Belakhdar delivers an impressive performance as Ali, with touching cameos by Heinz W. Krukeberg as Alexander's closest friend and Anna Bottcher as his social worker. Here's the trailer: