“Like is not the measure of right”
I have caught the Guy Maddin bug. And it is all My Dad is 100 Years Old’s fault. Is Isabella Rossellini’s love letter to her father overdone, pretentious, and unnecessary? Probably yes on all counts, however, none of that detracts from the achievement it also creates. Why film an interview, static and uninteresting, when you can hire an auteur to use his eye and add a flair for the dramatic? Cinema is about drawing the viewer in, right—to cause the audience to think, feel, and relate? What could have been a straightforward telling of a daughter’s love and idolatry for her father instead becomes a short film displaying that which Isabella speaks. We see examples of Roberto’s neo-realism and eye-level static framing, not to mention instances calling these techniques out, at the same time mocking Rossellini himself as well as the critics who uttered the remarks. You begin to understand the genius, stubbornness, and creativity of both filmmakers, Rossellini and Maddin, sowing the seeds to seek out more from both.
You cannot help but think about David Lynch when watching the stark black and white, calling back to his older shorts. The sheer absurdity of Roberto Rossellini being played by another man’s large belly just adds to the comparison, especially when coupled with the smoky fog, Isabella playing multiple cinematic greats, and the use of projections and camera tricks unpolished and out in the open. To go so far as to have her Chaplin speak through title-card shows the meticulous detail taken to create a true piece of art. And the scratchy appearance and jumpy framing only adds to it. Maddin isn’t trying to mass-produce a piece that will be consumed by the public and bring in large sums of money. No, he has taken the time to tell the story of a past collaborator in Isabella and her feelings about her deceased father. Roberto was a loaming figure in cinema, directing some of the medium’s greatest works, yet at the time beleaguered with criticism and close-minded mentalities of the craft. However, what is slow and laborious to some is calculated brilliance to others.
Isabella was only 25 when her father passed on, only having acted in one film previously. Her father—and mother Ingrid Bergman of course—greatly shaped her career going forward. Having to endure the comments about and dismissal of his work, a man who she held as a genius and leader of the field, must have only strengthened her resolve to seek out cinema for what it could be and not what it “should” be. As her iterations of Selznick and Hitchcock say, the people like Hollywood, they like to be entertained. But, like is not the measure of right. One must look inside oneself to put forth work that is redeemable to him; therefore hoping it resonates with the public to become as well loved by them as it is by he. Looking at Isabella’s filmography, you see someone who stuck to that creed, seeking out work that would challenge and make a difference, much like her father did with his films of what might have happened, not the neo-realist what did happen for which he was labeled. His camera choices and filming style were honed with a purpose, to see the world as it may have occurred, to try and understand what was happening around him.
The amount of care put into this film by both Rossellini and Maddin cannot be questioned. Her script is heartfelt and poignant while still holding relevance to cineasts across the globe. To hear a firsthand account of a legend by living legend herself, not to mention the daughter of the subject, is an experience not to be taken lightly. This piece holds historical value, something I’m sure The Documentary Channel had in mind when financing it, but also contains merit on its own. Maddin weaves together images of the stomach with foggy veiled frames of Italy, footage from some of Roberto’s films, and the bringing to life of cinema’s finest. Complete with visual flourishes such as the gigantic projection of Bergman, played by Isabella, talking to Isabella, as well as the wonderful projected flying of Chaplin’s angel, portrayed again by her, My Dad is 100 Years Old becomes a document of a filmmaker as well as a successful creation in its own rite. Maybe it goes overboard and maybe it is self-indulgent, but, honestly, I wouldn’t mind watching it again right now.
My Dad is 100 Years Old 8/10 | ★ ★ ★