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‘Ignorance is bliss mentality’: inside Florida’s ‘Disneyland for seniors’ | Documentary films

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In the Villages, central Florida’s sprawling, master-planned retirement community billed as “Disneyland for seniors”, there is one ubiquitous presence: the golf cart. The hybrid transport abounds within the Baby Boomer mecca that’s now bigger than Manhattan (and, from 2010-2017, the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States), zipping among the complex’s lush golf courses and filling its miniaturized parking spots.

The cart is nearly a character unto itself in Some Kind of Heaven, Lance Oppenheim’s sly, remarkably open-hearted documentary on the Villages – it darts along postcard sunsets, past signs for “Florida’s friendliest home town”, circles town squares and loops in a synchronized cart parade. The cart serves both a utilitarian purpose – it’s a safer mode of transport than a car, especially as most residents travel small distances – and the symbol of a fantasy: why have a car if you never need to leave?

Some Kind of Heaven, the debut feature from Oppenheim and executive-produced by director Darren Aronofsky, traces the outline and underside of this arresting, distinctly American vision of marketable nostalgia, in which seniors pay anywhere from the low six figures for the promise of a permanent vacation. The Villages is “designed to hide all of the problems of everyday life”, Oppenheim told the Guardian, and it’s a popular pitch: residents now number over 130,000. Designed to evoke the manicured streets and small-town familiarity of Reagan’s “morning in America” ad, it’s also a fundamentally conservative fantasy; over 98% of the residents are white, and Villagers voted overwhelmingly – nearly 70% – for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

That fantasy of sustained, uninterrupted comfort has its pull, which courses throughout Some Kind of Heaven’s shots of watercolor sunsets and seniors letting loose to live music. “There was something relatable about living in a bubble,” said Oppenheim, a south Florida native who began the project in 2018 as a short for his college thesis. Yet “there’s something deeply terrifying about the fact that this is a utopian/dystopian experiment that is so wildly successful that a whole demographic of people have chosen to live inside of something like this.”

In atmospheric, sumptuous shots that lean into the artifice of the town’s twilight visions, Some Kind of Heaven zips between activities that play like a college fair for seniors – martial arts instruction and majorettes, dance classes and tambourine groups, pickleball and water aerobics, margarita mixers and dances any night of the week. The convivial scenes offer a vision of life in the sunset years delightfully at odds with cultural assumption of old age – that it would be devoid of parties, sex, drugs, the capacity for new hobbies — framed by palm trees and watercolor skies, all while embroidering said vision with the tribulations of four actual seniors who “call into question the marketing brochure fantasy”, Oppenheim said.

Where other films and investigations have focused on the Villages’ rapid, billion-dollar development, its stark political fault-lines, or its ugly and very real racism, Some Kind of Heaven slinks through the illusion, tracing the currents of desire, confusion and frustration that undercut it. “It’s very easy, obviously, to make any documentary subject, but especially people who are in the Villages, to look foolish,” Oppenheim said. “I wanted to make a film that was not about elderly people; I just wanted to make a film about people, whose desires to live and express themselves were not really that dissimilar to our own.”

Filmed over 18 months between 2018 and 2019, Some Kind of Heaven primarily follows four seniors on the margin of the fantasy. Barbara, a widower from Boston, searches for connection through seemingly endless extracurricular options and tires of the bubble’s performance of perpetual satisfaction. The bond between Reggie and Anne, married over 50 years, strains under Reggie’s derailing foray into drugs, agnostically borrowed mysticism and slipping grip on reality, as broadcast on his YouTube page. Dennis, a roguish charmer into his 80s, prowls the Villages’ manicured streets in his van, reeling out his worn flirtation skills for a female companion and, maybe, a backdoor into Village membership.

Dennis Dean
Dennis Dean. Photograph: Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The shifting sands of Reggie and Annie’s marriage, Barbara’s bonding over Jimmy Buffett with a potential suitor, demonstrate how, as Oppenheim put it, “there is authenticity that can happen there, even in one of the most inauthentically constructed places ever.” Nevertheless the fantasy of safe spaces and Mayberry-esque streets promotes an “ignorance is bliss mentality”, Oppenheim said, “which really can start hovering over to just plain ignorance”.

In other words, the Villages’ often vocal Republican allegiance. Numerous journalistic features have documented the Villages’ increasingly hostile conservatism, its faux history, its relatively small upwelling of liberal activism, its financial ties to the GOP (billionaire founder H Gary Morse was one of the top Republican donors until his death in 2014). This summer, Villagers for Trump, an organization of more than 2,000 members, hosted a maskless, Covid-denial-filled event; a viral video, retweeted by Donald Trump, of another Villagers for Trump rally captured a man shouting “white power!” with fist in the air as he rolled past a Panera bread in, yes, a golf cart.

But the Villages’ explicit, often bumper-stickered political fault-lines never intrude on Some Kind of Heaven, which doesn’t so much avoid the subject as smudge the place’s fundamental conservatism – its focus on self-actualization through planned fantasy, its overwhelming whiteness, its six-figure barrier to entry – into a haze of sunsets in paradise, swimming pools and Parrothead parties. Though Trump’s name is never mentioned in the film, “I wouldn’t call this an apolitical movie,” Oppenheim said. “I wanted to make something that was more engaged with the ideas of the Trump presidency, or a body of people who do believe in those kinds of ideas that Trump believes in.” Make America Great Again does, after all, sprout from the same bedrock of constructed nostalgia as the Villages’ movie-set Main Street.

The “insane lengths people will go to to cocoon themselves inside of a fantasy or a dream,” he added, “felt so much more immediately interesting and relevant … than just making a ‘here’s the Trump club,’ ‘here’s the Democrat club,’ this is how they face off.”

Barbara Lochiatto
Barbara Lochiatto. Photograph: Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Observing said cocoon translates into a remarkably un-condescending movie; there’s palpable joy to be found in scenes of conviviality between the people often shunted to the margins of society, dismissed as dispensable by the many during the pandemic, whose interiority, growth and capacity for change is generally masked or ignored. The Villages may be a homogeneous, Swiss cheese fantasy of the sunset years, but that doesn’t preclude the fantasy from holding some genuine revelations, often captured in attentive, warm closeup – Barbara’s acting class journey from passive audience to self-excavating participant, Anne’s ginger steps toward an identity outside her husband and literally dancing on her own in a crowd.

Ultimately, Oppenheim said he saw the project as “sort of a hopeful movie”, that revels in the fact that “maybe in your eighth or ninth or seventh decade on this planet, you still may be as hot of a mess as you were when you were in your second decade on this planet, and that’s totally fine.”

Whether audiences find that prospect depressing or soothing depends on one’s personal idea of what life could look like when there’s assuredly less time left on the clock than passed before. But the vision, however limited, of exploration and frivolity late in life tips toward hope. “Especially right now, when we have a lot of time on our hands and we’re stuck inside and we have to kind of find ways to improve our lives, I think the quest to better yourself is always a worthwhile one,” Oppenheim said. “Seeing that for elderly people should hopefully illustrate that point for everybody.”


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Jean-Pierre Bacri obituary | Jean-Pierre Bacri

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Any admirer of French cinema over the past 40 years will have developed a soft spot for the hangdog looks and gruff, rumpled charm of the actor Jean-Pierre Bacri, who has died aged 69 of cancer. In the tradition of Walter Matthau, he brought sympathetic comic shading to even the most irredeemable worrywart or miseryguts. His speciality was a saturnine impatience with life that was nonetheless susceptible to glimmers of optimism; he could mope and hope with equal conviction. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, praised his “laconic and sensitive humanity”, calling him “the tenderest of our grouches”.

Those qualities were present also in Bacri’s award-winning screenplays, written mostly with his longtime partner Agnès Jaoui; their collaboration outlived the end of their relationship in 2012. They co-wrote and starred in a series of urbane and insightful comedies of manners, which Jaoui also directed, and which earned her comparisons to Woody Allen. In Under the Rainbow (2013), it was Bacri who took the Allen-esque role of a disconsolate driving instructor convinced his number is up after a fortune teller predicts the date of his death. “You’re shut tight like a vault,” his girlfriend tells him, prefiguring a pleasure common to many of Bacri’s performances: that slight eventual unclenching as his characters start to entertain the remote possibility of joy.

The couple’s biggest success was The Taste of Others (Le Goût des Autres) (2000), Jaoui’s directing debut, in which Bacri played a philistine factory owner besotted by the lead actor (Anne Alvaro) in a production of Jean Racine’s Bérénice. It was an international hit, and a surprise Oscar contender for best foreign language film.

Agnes Jaoui, Alain Chabat and Jean-Pierre Bacri in The Taste of Others (2000).
Agnes Jaoui, Alain Chabat and Jean-Pierre Bacri in The Taste of Others (2000). Photograph: AF archive/Alamy

They won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for Look at Me (2004), starring Bacri as an arrogant publisher who behaves cruelly toward his overweight daughter. In their follow-up, Let’s Talk About the Rain (2008), he was a struggling film-maker. Their final project together, Place Publique (2018), cast him as a washed-up TV presenter.

“I would have made more egocentric movies without him,” Jaoui said in 2008. “He is self-taught, and when he knows something, he knows it forever.” She called him “my favourite actor and writer” and “the man that understands me the best and the quickest”. The affection was reciprocated. “It’s a vacation when I work on a film with Agnès,” Bacri said. “We talk, smoke joints … We like each other.”

The critic David Denby said the couple had “mastered the art of complex narrative. They have a story to tell, but they go so far into manners, quirks, and undertones that we feel, at the end of their films, that we have understood not just a dramatised anecdote but an entire way of life.” Denby called Bacri “a master of the many shades of half-interest and sullen boredom. His expression asks, ‘What’s the point?’”

He was born in Castiglione (now Bou Ismaïl) in Algeria, the son of a postman and a housewife, and raised in Cannes; he traced his love of film to his father’s weekend job at one of the town’s cinemas. He was educated at the Lycée Carnot in Cannes, then moved to Paris in 1976 to become an advertising copywriter. He studied drama from 1977 at Le Cours Simon and won a prize two years later for his play The Sweet Face of Love.

French film and television work followed, with early parts including a pimp in Le Grand Pardon (1982), a would-be actor in postwar Lyon in Diane Kurys’ Entre Nous (1983), and a cop in Luc Besson’s stylish thriller Subway (1985), for which Bacri earned his first César nomination. He met Jaoui in 1986 when they appeared in a production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. They began writing together soon after.

Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri in 1998
Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri in Paris after receiving the César award for On Connaît la Chanson (1997).
Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty

The couple’s first script, Cuisines et Dépendances (1993), was adapted from their own Molière award-winning play about a fraught reunion between a group of friends. For the innovative director Alain Resnais, they adapted Intimate Exchanges, Alan Ayckbourn’s extraordinarily complex set of plays, into the two-part film Smoking/No Smoking (1993), in which a variety of possible outcomes (16 on stage, 12 in the screen version) result from one woman choosing whether or not to light a cigarette. This was a script arrived at “more by pruning than elaboration”, as the critic Adam Mars-Jones put it, though it won Bacri and Jaoui the César award for best screenplay.

They took that prize a further three times: for Un Air de Famille (1996), co-written with its director, Cédric Klapisch; On Connaît la Chanson (1997), also known as Same Old Song, their second picture with Resnais, which was dedicated to Dennis Potter and employed that writer’s technique of having actors lip sync to well-known musical numbers (Bacri also won a César for his performance in that film); and for The Taste of Others.

His finest work outside those collaborations with Jaoui included Looking for Hortense (2012), directed by the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic Pascal Bonitzer. Bacri was poignant as a downtrodden professor called upon to save a young immigrant from deportation just as his own wife, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, is deserting him. The film features a discussion of different categories of sorrowful smile – the “I owe you money but I’m broke” smile, the “I’m hurting but it’s no big deal” smile – which plays like a roll call of the actor’s own repertoire of facial expressions.

He could find the truth in any scenario, from the unusual demands of the fantasy comedy Didier (1997), in which he played a failing soccer manager dog-sitting a labrador that turns into a man, to C’est la Vie! (2017), a French box-office hit in which he was a wedding caterer reduced to a spluttering incredulous wreck by a string of professional disasters.

By 30, Bacri had already arrived prematurely on screen at a kind of defeated middle age, where he remained for the rest of his life. Audiences would not have wanted him any other way.

Jean-Pierre Bacri, actor and screenwriter, born 24 May 1951; died 18 January 2021



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Lili Reinhart Shared Some BTS Photos Of The "Riverdale" Pilot

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It’s been four years.


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Kristen Stewart As Princess Diana Movie First Look

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Tibrina Hobson / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Heck, even I was a tad skeptical, and I love K-Stew.

The movie covers the moments when Princess Di realized her marriage to Charles was over, during Christmas weekend in the early ’90s.


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Well, we’ve just been given our first look at Kristen as Diana, and, my God, I am flabbergasted.


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For context, here’s the actual Diana on Christmas day:


Pool / Tim Graham Picture Library / Getty Images

Director Pablo Larraín previously told Deadline, “Kristen is one of the great actors around today. To do this well, you need something very important in film, which is mystery. Kristen can be many things, and she can be very mysterious and very fragile and ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need. The combination of those elements made me think of her.”


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