DOC NYC 2021: ‘100UP’ Is a Sweet Meditation of Centenary Life

Reading Time: 3 minutes

100UP

When we talk about documentaries, we often make allusions to the virtues of a filmmaker capturing a piece of life, but Heddy Honigmann goes further with 100UP. By presenting a handful of people over 100 years old, the Dutch-Peruvian director captures incredible stories, wisdom, inspiring lessons, and the pain of broken hearts.

Honigmann travels to Peru, the Netherlands, the United States, and Norway to follow her interviewees as they go through their daily life, eventually chipping in with an interview to find more about them.

Among those interviewed is Shirley Zussman, a sex therapist with a great attitude who shares her progressive ideas on abortion (and also expresses her disbelief at how little things have changed) and the role of desire in modernity. We also meet Viola Smith, a radiant drummer who tells us about her musical family; she attributes her longevity to the enormous amount of exercise she did while playing drums for so many years. In Lima, Peru, we visit Raul Jei, a doctor who continues to work actively and who shares reflections on euthanasia; His reasons for continuing to work every day will break your heart. Born in 1914 and living quietly in New York, ex-comedian Irwin Corey speaks, with great warmth in his voice, about the “incredible phenomenon” called life.

In The Hague (Netherlands), we meet Hans, a man who, with great excitement, shares his ideas about human rights and the future that lies ahead. Although Hans only briefly contributes, Honigmann later expands on this theme by questioning her other subjects regarding their point of view on the future of humanity. Working on a farm in Norway, Laila Myrhaug and her family share valuable insights into what they have seen living in the countryside: birds and insects are disappearing at an accelerating rate.

Now living in New York, an Austrian migrant named Mathilde Freund provides a powerful meditation on the weight of history. She tells us about her experience watching Hitler enter her town and the positive reception he got from neighbors. Now, Mathilde sells crafts and takes classes at a university to continue learning about the world. 

Throughout the documentary, we find an air of deep pain stemming from the loss of a partner or loved one. Some interviewees recall stories about the love of their life, romantic encounters, and the moment of loss. Shirley only looks nostalgically at the portraits, and in her gaze, we can see her feelings of pain. In the most emotional moment of 100UP, Freund recounts the last time she saw her husband before being apprehended in France during the Nazi occupation.

Jessica de Koning’s editing allows the documentary to flow at a good pace, cleverly cutting between the observations of the subjects’ everyday life and the more personal interviews, making sure to give the saddest moments some breathing air to avoid depriving the documentary of its light touch. 

The documentary is far from perfect, though. Honigmann finds trouble deepening specific topics and tends to forget about some of her subjects for long periods of time. Naturally, this is a very small sample, and it is clear that the director’s intentions are merely positive. Still, it would have been interesting to meet centenarians with different economic levels. Would they live in the same comfort without such wealth?

Despite losing the opportunity to enrich its storytelling, 100UP is still a moving portrait of life and longing that also provides pure motivation. The positive attitude of these centenary people inspires you to rethink your way of life and reflect on the importance of enjoying your moments on Earth. What is the secret of their longevity? Obviously, there is no recipe, but the documentary lets us see that continuous physical and mental exercise is key, in addition to, of course, the love for life.

100UP screened at DOC NYC 2021 as part of the Luminaries program.


100UP
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Despite losing the opportunity to enrich its storytelling, 100UP is still a moving portrait of life and longing that also provides pure motivation. The positive attitude of these centenary people inspires you to rethink your way of life and reflect on the importance of enjoying your moments on Earth. What is the secret of their longevity? Obviously, there is no recipe, but the documentary lets us see that continuous physical and mental exercise is key, in addition to, of course, the love for life.