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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

A Simple Life

 

... or 桃姐 (Tao jie)

 
This is the first blog in a short series focusing on films about moving into a residential care home for the elderly.

Introduction

A Simple Life or 桃姐 (Tao jie)
A Simple Life is directed and co-produced by Ann Hui and was released in the UK in 2012. Set in Hong Kong, it is in Cantonese with English subtitles and stars some very well known Hong Kong actors and actresses, namely Andy Lau and Deanie Ip, who won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival 2011, and at eight other festivals, for her role as Ah Tao. Inspired by the true life experiences of one of the film’s producers and co-writer, Roger Lee, the film focuses on the changing relationship between Ah Tao, a maid to the Leung family for 60 years, who looks after Roger an unmarried film producer and the only one of the family remaining in Hong Kong after they relocated to America. Ah Tao’s life is the simple life of the title and the film follows the reversal of their caring role after Ah Tao suffers a stroke and Roger becomes involved in providing support for her. The director, herself now 66 years old, has described the film as a documentary style drama in which she sought to portray the featured Hong Kong residential care home in a realistic way, making it of particular interest to Old Age Psychiatrists.



The Film

A Simple Life opens with Ah Tao buying food in the local market where she seems well known and warmly regarded as a quirky character. She then cooks a luxurious, healthy meal of fish for Roger which she delivers with minimal fuss or conversation but maximum care and attention. Her loyalty is very apparent. Their relationship, although one of employer and employee, is seemingly symbiotic and words are almost unnecessary as they have such mutual understanding that has developed since Roger was young. Ah Tao raised Roger as a baby and child and he is now a successful film producer who travels a lot but does not have a wife or partner. On returning from a trip to mainland China, Ah Tao does not answer the door to the flat. Roger eventually finds that she has collapsed inside having suffered a stroke and she is admitted to hospital. As she begins to recover a little, Ah Tao states that she must now retire and wishes to live in a care home. Roger helps to find a suitable place and then finds that he is drawn to regular contact with Ah Tao as he becomes her provider. She requests that Roger inform his mother about Ah Tao’s situation, as the majority of the Leung family now live in America. A visit follows which delights Ah Tao but highlights the more distant bond that Roger has with his mother in contrast to that which he has with Ah Tao. Her gradual recovery from the stroke allows greater freedom to leave the care home on outings with Roger, which she never takes for granted, and they begin to develop a friendship quite distinct from their previous relationship. Roger takes Ah Tao to a film premiere where he introduces her as his godmother, which touches her enormously. Their bond is finally sealed as they leave the screening arm in arm talking about the film. Interspersed with the portrayal of their developing relationship are scenes involving other residents at the care home. After suffering another stroke, Ah Tao is confined to a wheelchair and deteriorates steadily with dignified acceptance and serenity. Roger is at her bedside in hospital as her death approaches, with the full awareness of how important Ah Tao was to him.

 

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

A Simple Life tackles the very topical subject of how best we can provide care for older people no longer able to live independently. The film shows the effect on Ah Tao, a previously productive, capable individual, who enjoyed being a carer, when she chooses to move into institutional care after suffering a stroke. The film sensitively examines the nature of the bonds that sustain people in residential care providing a commentary on the importance of non-familial as well as familial bonds. The opportunity to compare these issues as seen in another culture with our own experiences here in the UK, and elsewhere, is a useful and important exercise that broadens and deepens our understanding of elderly care.

A Simple Life highlights certain positive interventions that enhance the lives of those in residential care, such as meaningful engagement in groups, access to the community, the importance of visitors, the joy of pet therapy sessions and above all the delivery of compassionate care. It also hints at the cynicism of some who interact with the residents during the visit of a professional singer and her entourage for the Autumn Festival as they snatch the gifts away from the residents after photographs are taken so that they can use them at the next care home. The film also reminds the viewer of the commonly felt loss of privacy experienced by individuals relinquishing their own home for a life lived in a communal space which is often the most troubling prospect for those elders facing a move into residential care.

With its slow and gentle pace, and its deeply humane perspective, this film is a gem and a real joy to watch. I would highly recommend it to anyone working with older people.

 

• More information about A Simple Life can be found at IMDB as can a short trailer.

 

A Simple Life can be purchased from amazon.co.uk.

 

• Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida

 

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.