As everything that has given her life the necessary security falls apart, Ellen, a 40-year-old flight attendant sets out to seek a new purpose and a place to belong. In doing so, she becomes a tourist in the lives of the people and groups she encounters. Leading her towards a surprising catharsis…
Starring Jeanne Balibar (Sagan, Va Savoir, Code 46, The Duchess of Langeais). From the director of The Unpolished (2007 Rotterdam Best Film, 2008 German Critics Best First Feature Debut)
Ellen must come to face some new turns in life. Although her job as a flight attendant keeps her rotating around the globe, she finds her private life has become a placebo, lending the sensation of security she needs so badly.
When Florian, Ellen's partner of many years, leaves her, she is not entirely without blame. Yet the fact that he is also expecting a child with another woman is more than Ellen can handle. An appointment at the doctor only makes her unease grow. In the following days, Ellen suffers a panic attack whilst on duty, causing her to disembark and abandon an airplane that is preparing to start. As she crosses the airfield, she knows instinctively that she is leaving her old life behind.
Now in a strange city and unable to be alone, she finds herself lodged up in an airport hotel in Frankfurt, trying to recruit colleagues passing through, to keep her company. It is during this period, that Ellen becomes acquainted with a group of young activists. Amongst them is Karl. The two are instantly drawn to one another and following his trail, Ellen soon finds herself in the midst of an animal-rights group, consisting of students and punks. Whilst her ex-partner Florian desperately tries to relocate Ellen and incorporate her into his new family, she attempts to become part of this cluster of idealists.
Ellen, impressed by the group’s passionate commitment, is aware that she has never been involved in any meaningful cause. Yet the ulterior motive for her engagement remains her secret - her inability to be alone. A detail in her character that only Karl comes close enough to observe. It is with this knowledge that he is able to functionalize Ellen, in a similar way as she does him. Yet what bonds the two, is that they are both trying to escape the circumstances of their lives. Ellen decides to marry Karl. Perhaps a tactic that will help Karl out of his very troubled situation or is it a manoeuvre forcing her further from Florian? Now wedded, Ellen and Karl form a bizarrely unsuited couple. Whilst Ellen has a certain sophistication derived from her years of travelling the world, Karl, who is much younger, radiates a youthful unruliness. They become accomplices. But are Ellen and Karl still impartial towards each other? Ellen soon realizes that their platonic arrangement has disintegrated into unspoken feelings and expectations. For a brief moment, Ellen allows herself to experience love in an unconditional way.She finds herself shacked up at Karl’s side, in a former squat with the other animal activists. Dressed in black, they set out on a crusade to destroy the industry of animal torture and liberate as many of its victims as they can. Yet however unbalanced this situation has become, Ellen finds she’s growing stronger. Unbeknown to the group, they have aroused in Ellen a sense of purpose. But is their purpose equivalent to hers?
Convinced that there must be a specific place in the world where she is needed. Inwardly matured, strangely happy and ready to venture a new beginning, Ellen may well modify this new challenge too, to fit her own needs...
At the beginning of Ellen’s story, everything which has given her the necessary security in her daily life begins to crumble away and spontaneously she decides to disappear. Like many others in modern society, the frame of her existence has been held together by fragile threads, needing only a small jolt to disrupt. Unavoidably, Ellen becomes a vehicle for a certain sense of emotional and existential dislocation.
SOMETHING REMINISCENT OF FAMILY
As she journeys into the undefined future, Ellen tackles her unease in an unusual and optimistic way. It is this unease that drives her to search for something reminiscent of family and the warmth of belonging. Comically, Ellen finds this in the most uncomfortable places. The cluster of young people she attaches herself to, are far beyond anything she has known before.
CONNECTION TO KARL
Ellen's unspoken connection to Karl pulls her into this group of animal activists. But AT ELLEN'S AGE is not a portrait of a woman struggling with loneliness, far more it is about human interaction. This is reflected in the behaviour and cause of Ellen's surrogate “family”.
AT ELLEN'S AGE
One of the main themes we were thinking about in the film is how does someone find grounding in this time or a purpose. Things that previously gave us stability like family structures, the church, or just living in the place you were born and knowing your surroundings through generations seems to be disolving. Relationships seem to be more transient. The notion of growing old with one person has evaporated.
I think that for a woman at Ellen’s age who comes to a point of having to redefine her life, this is an interesting process. Because nothing can be taken for granted. It might be too late to settle down and have a family in the traditional sense. It was very important that the character be optimistic, even though the circumstances are hard.
Ellen is forced to become more open to things in order to move on.
In the her relationship with Florian, the conditions were important. With Karl, they are so different that these conditions are not imposable and for a brief moment, she is able to experience a feeling to someone which is perhaps unconditional. Yet this is not static and she has the intelligence to move on before it can become anything but that.
Although Karl is young, he is full of radical opinions for which he - like the others - are prepared to fight. It is the contrast between the bourgeois life Ellen emerges from and the marginal existence she submerges into, that accentuates the intended sensuality and vulnerability of her character and gives her the possibility to grow. Allowing her inner development to become visible in the end. I am interested in the development a character makes under the circumstances that Ellen finds herself confronted with.
A PERSONAL JOURNEY
This is not a film about doing the right thing, much more it is about a personal journey of someone trying to find meaning in a complex and contradictory world. Therefore the story reflects themes of looking for something natural in an increasingly artificial world. I didn't want the film to take any political standpoints, instead it attempts to give insight into a way of living and thinking and why people make the choices they do, without moralizing.
THE FURY OF IDEALISM
Regarding the animal activists, I believe it was important to keep the ambiguity of this issue. Their work or cause is for a good reason: an animal is innocent. It is unable to defend itself or consent to what is imposed upon it. Yet in the fury of their idealism, do they cross a boundary? Much more the film questions: when does doing good turn into doing bad? I don't think that my film looks for easy solutions, far more the story allows the elements such as a “cause” or “movement” to co-exist with its adversary. Perhaps even ironically so.
Pia Marais – August 2010
Pia Marais – «director»
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. My father was a lunatic actor trained at RADA and a descendent of the French Hugenots and English colonials who had settled in South Africa. My mother is Swedish and was responsible for the sanity in my upbringing and the Waldorf School education. Most of my upbringing was spent in Southern Africa, except for a few years in Sweden and Spain. Initially I studied sculpture, then went on to photography before realising that due to the narrative character of what I was doing, film would be the appropriate medium.
Having studied art at Chelsea School of Art (London), The Rietveld Akademie (Amsterdam) and KunstAkademie (Duesseldorf), I went on to study film at the Deutsche Film- und Fernseh-Akademie (DFFB) in Berlin.
After several engagements in film business as casting director, assistant director and writer, I made my feature debut with “Die Unerzogenen” ("The Unpolished"), which has screened at many international film festivals and has won various prizes, including Tiger Award in 2007 in Rotterdam. My second feature film "IM ALTER VON ELLEN" ("AT ELLEN'S AGE"), starring Jeanne Balibar, was developed in the Résidence du Festival de Cannes and has it’s world premiere in the International Competition at Locarno Film Filmfestival.
Im Alter von Ellen (At Ellen’s Age), 2010, 35mm, feature film, 95 min
Pandora Film in co-production with WDR & Arte
Supported by Filmstiftung NRW, Hessische Filmförderung, BKM, DFFF
Media Development, Cinemart, Cannes Festival La Residence
Die Unerzogenen (The Unpolished), 2007, 35mm, colour, 95 min
Pandora Film in co-production with WDR/SWR , supported by Filmstiftung NRW, FFA
Distributor Germany: Real Fiction, Distributor France: Pierre Grise, Intern. Sales: The Match Factory
(Winner Tiger Award Rotterdam 2007, German Critic Award 2007
selection: Crossing Europe Award Linz 2007, Signis Award BAFICI B. Aires 2007, Best First Feature Durban 2007, Best Actress Award Las Palmas 2007, ARD Treatmentpreis Saarbrücken 2002 etc.)
Layla Fourie, feature film, ca. 90 min - in development
development supported by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg & Media Development
Arte France Cinema Development Award Rotterdam 2010
17 (Seventeen), 35mm, colour, 20 min, short feature film
Tricky People, 16mm, colour, 19 min, short feature film
Deranged, 16mm, colour, 13 min, short feature film
Loop, 16mm, s/w, 5 min, short feature film
Pandora Film – «production company»
Claudia Steffen & Christoph Friedel «producers»
PANDORA FILM was founded in 1981 and established itself as distributor in Frankfurt and became a leading distribution company of international arthouse movies. In 1997 PANDORA FILM Produktion was founded as production division based in Cologne. Their aim is to cooperate continuously with writers and directors who develop their own and unmistakable cinematic language.
Company production credits include over 80 titles.