“Older Than Ireland” review: Centenarians inspire in documentary that focuses on life’s simple moments. Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

Share story

It’s an idea both perfectly simple and simply perfect: Irish documentarian Alex Fagan rounded up 29 centenarians, pointed a camera at each, and asked them about their lives. The result is “Older Than Ireland”: a charming, moving and over-too-soon portrait of a country, and of what it means to have a longer than expected life.

There’s plenty of expected Irish wit on display: 113-year-old Kathleen Snavely jokes about having been a prostitute (she’s tired of people asking what her secret is); Kitty Fingleton, asked how she got to be 100, notes, “I never ate a vegetable in my life, and I think that’s the reason.” Others reminisce for the camera about their memories of the Irish Civil War (1922-23); remember the poverty of their early years, with butter “scraped thin” on bread; and recall a youth in which young people left Ireland in droves. (Goodbye parties were called “American wakes” since there was no guarantee the traveler would ever come home again.)

But mostly, the film focuses poignantly on the simple acts that make up a life. These century-old subjects, many of them quite agile, bake, shop, ride the bus (or, in one case, drive), tend a fire, putt a golf ball, get their hair done, read the paper, sit with friends and family. Full-time work is a distant memory, though one, a veterinarian, only retired at 98.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Older Than Ireland,’ a documentary directed by Alex Fagan. 78 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Crest Cinema Center.

Some are lonely (“When she died, I died,” says a widower, quietly), others gregarious. Few have any vivid words of wisdom to offer; instead, their lives and presence inspire. For most of them, optimism prevails. “I’ve no mobile phone, by the way,” says one, “but I’m bloody glad to be mobile myself.” “I’m lookin’ forward,” says another, in a cheery Irish lilt, “to the hereafter.”