Welcome to the realm of kitsch and decadence! Beat Oswald invites us to enter the “Palace”, a “Senior Living Community” in Florida, actually the Palace at Coral Gables, which hosts “Independent Living Residences” and is the first of a series of residences of The Palace Group. The kitsch is apparent through the standard luxury of the heavy “royal” decorations that are dominated by redundant ornaments and the colour gold. The structure is perfectly functional, and markets and offers not only care and comfort but joy and fun. The decadence emerges as a fact of the aging bodies and, moreover, through the youth obsession of an entire generation. This obsession is so American that the film seems ultimately to speak more of the States than of the condition of old people in general.
Even if this specific documentary subject would naturally encourage the assumption of a caustic and pitiless gaze – and Beat Oswald is also an ethnologist… – his camera is able to maintain the same distance and respect towards the people that lead the business, and the clients that take advantage of the services. Without empathy, but also without irony, this very well edited film succeeds in making us go beyond the descriptive layer and pose existential questions. Through an exaggerated celebration of life, we cannot avoid feeling the breath of death. Billy Strayhorn’s song, Lush Life (1933-1936), therefore becomes a refrain that gains a metaphysical flavour where nostalgia is simultaneously banned and triumphant, where loneliness and lust intertwine, where a senior resident will have something to say to each and every one.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: October 09, 2019