The dear old-fashioned quality of "Home Sweet Home," a Belgian film about rebellion in an old-people's home, has nothing to do with the age of its actors, which ranges from 65 to 85 years. They're a feisty bunch, with a demonstrated unwillingness to suffer such foolishness.
But age, nevertheless, has conveyed an air of quaintness -- the age of the picture (it appeared in 1973, winning several international prizes) and that of the filmmaker, Benoit Lamy (he was 27 at the time).
The story is a period piece: oppressed and downtrodden, The People finally band together to challenge the gratuitous meanness and hypocrisy of The Authorities by occupying their offices, burning all papers and records, ripping off department stores, going on the lam and summoning the media to watch them bombard the police with broken furniture. Through this method, they not only achieve Power, but also new Fellowship, Love of Humanity, and Sexual Vigor.
It's so much a formula that it's not odd to find a wedding tacked onto the end of the picture, even though a courtship between the bridal pair -- dressed in youthful formality as if for a first wedding -- was never even suggested. A conventional success story needs a conventional conclusion, even if the two don't quite match.
It's all very sweet.
And yet, through the stodgy eyes of the young, clinging to the ideas they know best, one can still get a sense of the originality and the vigor of these old people, and the fact that the problems associated with living in a home for the aged are not identical with those at a strict boarding school. The issues shown are the same -- bad food, early parietal hours, mail censorship, public scoldings, tattletales -- but the actors, some in their first roles, suggest a more awesome threat to human dignity.
The first significent scene shows a new resident being told by a snippy young nurse that she may not change the position of the bed in her room. It's a petty fight, and indeed, the pettiness of contested details in a supervised existence is a point. But Elise Martens, as the newcomer, projects such justified self-pride, obviously the result of a life time of masterful competence, that the challenge to her authority is tragically moving.
There's comedy, too, most of it depending on one's being surprised to see old people being either devious or frolicsome. But again, the complicated charm of the old actors, with their interestingly individual faces, shows through the simplicity of the situations. And the fact that the professional ac tors, as two young people and two middle-aged ones, come off as blank-faced dopes doesn't hurt the elderly, either.
HOME SWEET HOME -- At the Outer Circle 1.