Oscar-nominated documentary shorts: kvetching past the graveyard in King's Point

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Viewer of the Oscar-nominated short documentaries, at left
  • Viewer of the Oscar-nominated short documentaries, at left
All this month we'll be reviewing the Oscar nominees for the best animated, live-action, and documentary short films, alternating daily between categories. Check back tomorrow for the next installment.

Poverty, homelessness, suffering children, terminal illness, and the loneliness of dying—yes, it's the Oscar-nominated short documentaries for 2013. Next year I'm doing animation.

Today's merciless downer is King's Point, in which filmmaker Sari Gilman profiles a handful of elderly Jews residing at the title seniors-only condominium in Florida. As an opening voice-over from one resident explains, many of the people living there are transplanted New Yorkers. The salty, high-spirited conversation of old women playing cards poolside supplies some Golden Girls-type laughs: "It's nauseating when an old crock of shit touches me," declares Gert, referring to the elderly men in the community. "I don't need them." But a painful truth emerges as the story progresses: everyone needs someone, and many of these people feel badly isolated.

To some extent, they've created this problem themselves by separating themselves from their children and grandchildren and moving to a warmer clime; as Mollie explains, her teenage grandsons come to visit her, but after a few days they're going crazy from boredom. But in other cases the senior's only crime is having lived too long. When Gilman asks Bea how her life was different after her husband passed away, she replies, "It sucked. Are you gonna put that in? And the friends that you were friends with for 50 years, forget it." Thinking she had nothing to lose, she moved to Florida, only to find that people in King's Point were friendly but not friends. When Gilman catches up with Mollie two years later, living in a nursing home, she reports that no one from the community comes to visit her. "Why should they?"

"Everybody's a user here," Gert laments. "So you get to become one yourself." Her remark casts an unflattering light on Frank, a man ten years younger than Bea who functions as her boyfriend but refuses to become intimate with her. Eventually he breaks off seeing her, leaving her heartbroken, and when Gilman finally grinds the truth out of him, it's depressingly predictable: "I buried one wife. I don't want to bury another." An end title reveals that Frank died three years later—with Bea at his side.

Some have referred to King's Point as a movie about age segregation, which is a fair interpretation, I guess. Yet the atomization portrayed here is hardly restricted to old people; everyone in America is trying to get away from everyone else, shutting one another out with walls and noise or, in a pinch, headphones and smart phones. King's Point reminds you what the end game of all that looks like, when old friendships vanish and new ones are difficult to forge. Everyone meets his maker alone, but you have to wonder why some people are in such a hurry to get that way.

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