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Walter: Lessons From the World's Oldest People: Film Review

Walter: Lessons from the World's Oldest People - H 2013

The Bottom Line

Although we meet some memorable oldsters, there's sadly little to be learned from these superficial portraits.

Director

Hunter Weeks

Hunter Weeks' documentary explores the lives of supercentenarians -- people age 110 and older.

It’s very sweet that Hunter Weeks and his filmmaking partner/significant other Sarah E. Hall are interested in exploring the lives of supercentenarians (people over age 110, in case you didn’t know). Unfortunately, the result of their quest, the documentary Walter: Lessons From the World’s Oldest People, is significantly less than the sum of its occasionally affecting parts. Injecting themselves into the proceedings with annoying frequency, the filmmakers make the film as much about them as their elderly subjects.

Considering that he’s provided the film its title, 114-year-old Walter Breuning is a mere supporting player, though a highly sharp and affable one considering his advanced age. And as far as the life lessons we’re supposedly receiving from him and the other “supers” on display, they amount to little more than the sort of banal platitudes about clean living and doing good for others that would fit on a Hallmark card.

“It’s hard seeing these old people,” admits Weeks to Hall at one point. And it’s true at times because not all of the oldster are quite as animated as Walter. These include 114-year-old Besse Cooper, who barely manages to stay awake during her Guinness Book of World Records induction ceremony.

And yet others are full of piss and vinegar, including a buoyant 109-year old Italian nun who, when told that she seems happy, quickly retorts, “That’s the Lord’s work, not mine.”

The film includes footage of their trip to Cuba, whose government apparently promotes it as a hotbed of oldsters. While a Guinness official disputes the claim that Juana Bautista is really 124 years old, an official explains that so many people live to such a ripe old age on the island thanks to its expansive health care system as well as its lack of fast food and temperate climate. Take that, opponents to Obamacare.

There certainly are moving moments in this inspiring if necessarily somewhat morbid travelogue -- not all of the subjects survived until the end of shooting -- but they’re buried in the sloppiness and self-indulgence that too often marks this vanity project. By the time it reaches its conclusion, we’ve learned less about its ostensible subject matter than the filmmakers who, judging by several scenes in which we see them having dinner, really like Mexican food.

Opens Friday, Oct. 11 (Red Popsicle Films)

Director/director of photography: Hunter Weeks

Producers/editors: Sarah E. Hall, Hunter Weeks

Executive producer: Dave Kennedy

Not rated, 83 min.