If, for some reason, you ever wanted to screen a film festival at a retirement home, this year’s indie/arthouse crop would yield three films you could show in succession.
Start with “Alexandra,” a Russian film about a elderly woman who visits her grandson, who is in the military and engaged in the Chechnyan conflict. She wanders around and clucks a lot, and builds an unlikely friendship with a Chechnyan woman. Then show “Cherry Blossoms,” a German film about an elderly man who visits his son in Tokyo, who isn’t very excited to see him and leaves him alone most of the day. He wanders around and marvels at how different things are in Japan, and builds an unlikely friendship with a homeless dancer.
Then you can show “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” an American film about an elderly Chinese gentleman who visits his daughter in America, who isn’t very excited to see him and leaves him alone most of the time. He wanders around and takes notes on English slang, and strikes up an unlikely frienship with a Lebanese neighbor.
His daughter doesn’t like him very much, and we get the sense that he wasn’t a good father while she was growing up. She also doesn’t much like that he’s still a believing Communist. He is very worried about her, her marriage prospects, and the way she eats. She doesn’t seem very happy, but she certainly doesn’t want his help in fixing that.
Part of the problem with “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” lies in its structure. In the last few minutes of the movie, there is a revelation that changes just about everything the daughter thought she knew about her father and his life. It is a heartbreaking revelation, but it comes so late in the movie that it’s hard to start caring. The movie is based on a short story by Yiyun Li, and I can imagine this kind of heartbreaking revelation working much better at the end of 25 pages of mostly nothing happening. 2 hours of mostly nothing happening is a lot to take.