Film Review: Lives Well Lived

Every one of the 40 seniors interviewed in this beautifully respectful and affectionate doc abut aging emerges as a star. Bravi!
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When most women—and more than a few men—claim that they feel “invisible” after 40, and companies refuse to even see job applicants who have an AOL e-mail account on their resume, there can be no doubt that this is an inescapably ageist world. Director Sky Bergman does her part to address that blight in Lives Well Lived,  an unashamedly earnest and salubrious documentary in which she interviews some 40 seniors, aged 75 to 103, about their lives and how they cope with aging.

There is much wisdom here, and inspiration to be gleaned as well. Platitudes bandied about like “Live each day to its fullest” and “Be kind to everyone” may be of the hoariest hue, but as this particular writer of a certain age can attest, one needs to have spent considerable time on this Earth to fully understand the meaning of those words. Above all, staying curious and involved in whatever passion floats your boat is key, and when you see the simple joy with which Dr. Lou Tedone, 92, makes the mozzarella cheese that is a staple of his family business or Blanche Brown, 81, shakes her stuff in the drum-propelled Afro-Haitian dance class that she, an ordained Yoruba priestess, continues to teach, you see what it is like to stay truly young and engaged.

The gorgeous Brown is a real standout. The wife of former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, she was encouraged by her husband to pursue her dream as her three children grew older and, at 35, she enrolled in college for a dance degree. It was her grandmother, she said, who refused to give up her seat on a bus when a white passenger demanded it, who instilled in her the pride to fully be herself and not take crap from anyone. She is a beloved and much-honored San Francisco living treasure who, she admits, has tried to retire four times.

Not as famous, perhaps, but fully a star in her own right is the deeply lovable, down-to-earth Suzy Eto Bauman, 94, a mother of two boys, who along with her family was one of the thousands of Japanese-Americans rounded up and sent to live in internment camps during World War II because of her ancestry. An eternal optimist, she made the most of her situation, even taking joy in the innocent fun her kids had playing with toy guns in their prison. Her husband enlisted in the legendary, heroic 442nd infantry, which consisted of a number of Japanese-American men determined to prove their patriotism, even in the face of such government-sanctioned bigotry. He was killed in combat, sinking Bauman into deep despair, before her resolve was restored by the need to raise her sons. Now she keeps active, avoiding the TV-obsessed vegetation of many seniors, and says that the uphill daily walk to her mailbox may be a challenge, but coming downhill “is such a joy!”

These so-called geezers’ lives are filled with such simple pleasures, as is the film, which ends with Bergman’s tribute to her own grandmother, Evelyn Riciutti, 103, who grew up Italian in the Bronx and can remember the first car—a Ford—in the neighborhood, and voting with her mother when she was eighteen. Married for 68 years, her glorious “I wanna live more, see more” attitude is fully reflective of the Woody Allen quote about mortality one of her confreres mentions: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

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