Immortality, like all things in life, must come with a price. In his first ever feature length film, Old Men Never Die, Reza Jamali explores the futile efforts and emotional wave of a village full of centenarians seeking to die and failing miserably.
Aslan, a former hangman, left his home in fear of retaliation from the families of the criminals he killed and moved to a remote village far into the north-western mountains of Iran. A physically crooked old man, his arrival at the village 45 years ago has since brought the life of its inhabitants to a halt; the men have all continued to age but have yet to die. Aslan, at the age of 100, is one of many centenarians in the village and like the others, he is tired of living. As they lament over not having married, not having any children, the local undertaker going out of business and generally being tired of life, word of their situation has spread to other villages and attracted others looking to extend their own lifespans.
Sprinkled among the wily old men are the young soldiers of the Iranian military tasked with preventing the suicides of the villagers, a tedious occupation given that Aslan and his crew are constantly trying to die. As Aslan claims several times, “the God of Death has forgotten about me”, but that never stops him from trying to make the god show up. From cliff diving, monoxide poisoning, and drowning, Aslan and his group of elderlies attempting at meeting their maker are consistently thwarted at exactly the right moments as soldiers chase them up mountains, dive into the public bath, and fan them through open windows. Each failed suicide attempt is darkly comedic, and ultimately, quite sad.
There is a case to be made somewhere in this film about ‘choice’. One thing is clear as we watch Aslan and his crew make their constant attempts at ending their lives; they are all perfectly sane. After the first few suicide attempts are stopped by the soldiers, part of you is left feeling sympathetic towards the centenarians. They have lived long and active lives and are now reduced to spending their days in the village cafe drinking tea and smoking shisha, leading us to wonder where the soldiers draw the line between public safety and selfishness. Why, where the elderly are concerned, do we not acknowledge their rights to want to die on their terms and, in the case of Aslan’s friends, the right to change their mind?
In Old Men Never Die, Reza Jamali takes a topic that is inherently dark and attempts to give it a bit of levity. Where it falls short is in its length. Many of the gags that were funny at the beginning of the film during its 85-minute run time, soon feel contrived quickly, as they are spread far too thin to continue being effective. Before long Old Men Never Die has completely dropped the comedy and is just plain dark. Perhaps better suited to a short film format, Jamali would have benefitted from keeping this around the 15-20 minute mark.
Where the film does shine is in its cast of non-actors. The village’s centenarians are played delightfully and all have that sense of humour that comes effortlessly with old age; the ‘I’m too old to give a damn about what I do or say’ kind of comedy that is flawless in its execution at all times.
Overall a decent attempt for a first-time feature length film, Old Men Never Die is worth seeing at least once to enjoy the sweet bickering between its golden age stars.