Movie review: ‘Swan Song’ reveals the realities of aging

A movie camera can savor truth.

In the hands of a sensitive director, who knows where the lens should reach, a camera will reveal the hopes, fears and disappointments that a character may experience. And when we are welcomed into someone’s life, we learn more about the challenges anyone can face every day. Even people on a screen.

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Film Summary: Swan Song

Content: High. This story of how an aging hairdresser comes to terms with what has been and what could be reminds us how powerful film can be when revealing truth.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to sensitive performances from Udo Kier and Jennifer Coolidge, the emotions on screen soar.
Message: High. Kier captures the universal fears that aging creates can soothe and challenge how we view the passage of time.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to learn more about how people relate to each other, and react to their challenges, can be meaningful.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie can prompt conversation between you and your older children about how people can touch each other no matter when they reach beyond themselves.

Not all that much action actually happens in the sensitive gem “Swan Song.” A lonely man, living out his life in a senior-citizen facility, gets the chance for one more day in the professional spotlight when a former client dies. As a hairdresser, he immediately knows what appearance this lady would prefer; as her confidant, he quickly remembers the moments of joy and tension, as well as secrets they once shared. But stepping back into a life once led can be frightening. And this man, now disconnected from the people he once knew and searching for reasons to begin each new day, confidently leaves his cocoon to venture into an ever-changing world to successfully confront truths he spent years trying to deny.

German actor Udo Kier, in a daring portrayal of a complex man, never lets the drama of the moment get in the way of its inherent truth. Without hesitation, the actor bravely lets us into the fears this man avoids, the challenges he refuses to confront, relationships he pretends no longer matter. In less than two fast-moving hours, Kier takes us on a journey into every emotional corner and closet this man has inhabited, without pretending his life means more than his routine would suggest. As he rediscovers the man others once saw, he willingly shares wisdom shaped by scars from years past.

Such a meaningful, yet simple, film could easily get lost in today’s confusing world of in-theater and at-home viewing. But “Swan Song” deserves to be seen for the truth it conveys, the memories it celebrates and the performances it savors. Kier, who has graced the screen in more than 200 films, relishes this chance to solidify what we remember and imagine and what we may have missed when an actor inhabits a character. Never do we see this performer over-playing the dramatics. He simply is. And his scenes with Jennifer Coolidge – in a pitch-perfect portrayal of a bitter competitor – ring with the layers of betrayal and disappointment that could define any professional relationship. Using minimal words, these actors convey everything we need to know, each truth they may wish to hide, as they bring to life those moments when rivals reach beyond how they hate to embrace what they mutually fear.

At a moment when the movies try to redefine what we experience, “Swan Song” reminds us that when films introduce us to fascinating people we may never meet in real life, they deliver reel value that always brings us back.

“Swan Song," running 1 hour and 45 minutes, is not rated but features adult conversations and themes. The film is showing in metro New York theaters, on demand as well as streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime and YouTube.