First there was the blog, and then there was the book, now there’s the film. Ari Cohen’s wildly popular photo collection of older women who push fashion to the limit in New York City has been given the big screen treatment, and is one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Hot Docs Festival.
“Advanced Style” sashays into Toronto for four stylish screenings, and it isn’t an easy ticket to come by. Word on this film has spread like wildfire over the last few months as major magazines and television programs have profiled the women featured in the doc, as well as Cohen himself and filmmaker Lina Plioplyte. With all the hype, it would seem there is a serious push to better represent mature women in the modern age of fashion.
The film begins the same way the blog did, with Ari Cohen walking up to elegant-looking older women who are subconsciously using the city streets at their runway, and asking to take a few pictures. Call it confidence, or call it vanity, but most of the women he asks seem to take him up on it.
At the perfect length of 72 minutes, “Advanced Style” starts out as a gleeful fashion show. Within the first few minutes, you meet half a dozen women who range in age from about 60 to 100. After your mind adjusts to the visual roller-coaster of angular hats, bright red woolens and 3-inch lashes, this doc starts to do its real work: understanding the motivation behind its subjects. One woman owns a vintage clothing store, but money and love don’t come easily. Another in her 90s only “came of age” in terms of art and fashion about 15 years ago! The owner of the long standing Off Broadway Boutique is never short on advice and outfits, and is going strong at 80. And a legally blind former dancer isn’t ruling out her chance at meeting Mr. Right.
What’s striking during this film is how confident these older women are in their resolve to dress the way they like. By the same token, they can be vulnerable and forthcoming about their position in life while the camera rolls. It’s this mix of imagery and storytelling that makes the documentary version of “Advanced Style” a different experience than the blog. Ari Cohen’s images are dazzling, but it’s Plioplyte’s filmmaking skill that coaxes out the thoughtful and even painful back stories from these women.
More important than any fashion triumph or faux-pas you may judge while watching, this doc reminds everyone that there is no point in giving up. Your health will fail you. Friends and family will come and go. Age happens, but style remains. The women of Ari Cohen’s genius idea for a blog make getting older seem way better than not getting the opportunity.
“Advanced Style” is a real charmer. Don’t miss it.
Hart House Theatre, Tues., Apr. 29, 10:00 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre, Thurs., May 1, 1:00 p.m.
Regent Theatre, Sat, May 3, 1:30 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre, Sun., May 4, 1:30 p.m.
Gallery | Hot Docs 2014: 10 Picks You’ll Enjoy
- ‘Love Hotel’
In Japan, small living spaces, long work hours and the need for privacy drive 2.8 million citizens to visit so-called “love hotels.” But the vice police are on them, and despite high demand, they’re being shut down because of certain unsavoury activities. This doc is a trip through this taboo subculture.
- ‘Advanced Style’
Just look at the picture. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching these women? “Advanced Style” follows seven unique, eclectic New Yorkers who defy the process of aging by thinking — and dressing — young.
Barely any of us give it a second thought, but how many times in the recent past have you called a hotline for advice, hook-ups, therapy, or anything else? This fascinating doc looks at the evolving world of hotlines, and how humans will seek out real-life contact — via phone — if all else fails in their lives.
- ‘Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story’
That is a lot of hummus. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Watch as a married couple tries to go for months only eating food discarded in waste bins. You’ll be absolutely shocked by what happens.
- ‘The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest’
Imagine being kept in prison not for any specific crime, but only because you keep trying to escape (and keep on succeeding)? Meet Mark DeFriest, who interprets his attempts to escape as comedy. If only the prison officials saw it the same way, instead of as an affront. This story is one-of-a-kind, and will make you question your thoughts on prison.
- ‘The Case Against 8′
I’m not ashamed to say I was teary-eyed by the end of this doc about Proposition 8, the attempt by a group in California to nullify gay marriages. The main message of this doc is love is love, even if it’s between two members of the same sex. Really moving stuff.
- ‘Love & Engineering’
The brilliant engineers in this documentary are eager to find love, and many of them have never had a girlfriend. They go on a journey filled with algorithms and formulas to capture the perfect woman’s heart, but it turns out love is far more than just numbers and probabilities.
- ‘Meet The Patels’
There are literally millions of Patels in the world. You probably know a couple if you live in a metropolitan area. This documentary about the worldwide Patel family is eye-opening, and the lengths Patels will go to to keep their last name alive is definitely a sight to behold.
- ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’
While definitely unsettling, this look at mentally ill criminal offenders is a must-see for those interested in the endless debate of prison vs. rehabilitation. We follow different “criminals” as they navigate their way through the system, but some have been stuck in a sort of limbo for years.
- ‘The Immortalists’
These two men are on the hunt for immortality, and believe they’re well on their way to getting there. But as this doc goes on, the questions become: should we even bother trying to live forever? Do we want to?
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