Released during Pride Month, Swan Song is a touching story, beautifully told – with a powerful performance from legendary German actor Udo Kier. (Beginning life with the same dramatic flame that would define his career, Keir was born in Cologne, Germany towards the end of World War II. The hospital was bombed and Kier and his mother were buried in the rubble. All two survived, and Kier would later move to London as a young adult to study English before embarking on his acting career.)
Swansong takes place in Sandusky, Ohio, a small town in the American Midwest. The film opens with Kier as a weary old retired hairdresser stuck in some sort of aged care facility, where he sits idly, folding and unfolding towels between meals in the canteen when they are announced over the loudspeaker.
That all changes after he receives an unexpected invitation and embarks on an odyssey, rediscovering his old haunts in the small town and reuniting with long-lost friends. Gradually his energy and radiance return.
Writer-director Todd Stephens says he based the character of Pat on an actual character from his former hometown. He describes Swan Song as a “love letter” to the rapidly disappearing gay culture of small town America with its small gay bars and clubs and their often outrageous clientele, which at the time built the gay community. and paved the way for their rights. – which, he says, are taken for granted by younger people. (Is that completely true? I don’t know)
For me, this film is more about the importance of following your dreams, of never giving up. He also has a lot to say about the treatment of the elderly. Should they really be hidden, separated from the rest of the community? Ignored? Pope Francis has spoken a lot about this issue over the years.
During an audience for participants in a conference on the pastoral care of the elderly in January 2020, the Pope said that old age is “a precious treasure that takes shape in the journey of life of every man and woman, whatever their origins, their antecedents, their economic conditions or social conditions.” He said: “Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others. Always.” He called on the Church to care for the elderly, addressing them “with a smile on their face and the Gospel in their hands.”
He also noted that the world is facing a significant demographic shift, with fewer young people and a sharp increase in the number of older people. He said the problems faced by older people – including social disorientation and societal attitudes of indifference and rejection – are a call to the Church and society “for serious reflection in order to learn how to grasp and appreciate the value of old age”.
Sandusky is portrayed as a rather friendly place in this film. There are plenty of authentic cameo performances – including one from Linda Evans of Dynasty fame. When Pat escapes from his home and quickly takes an elevator into town, he doesn’t encounter a single homophobic person. The prejudice he encounters is more that of ageism – young hairdressers laugh at the outdated products he wants to buy and a young gay man in a bar looks at him with slight disbelief. Pat responds with dignity and grace to those who frequent him and wallows in the affection and respect he receives from the true old friends he reconnects with.
A thoughtful, sad and funny film.
Watch a trailer here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kosUYQLKZc