teresa mular — about aging and allowing the sun to come in

/Interview by Alika Gasimova/

Teresa Mular presented her film ‘Can’t Stop the Sun from Shining’ which shows the lives of four centenarian and almost centenarian women. This work inspires and convinces us that there is nothing impossible for all of us. The main rule is to be happy and ‘to allow the sun to come in’. This film is a great chance for viewers to learn very important lessons from the deep and intense stories of these four women. We talked with Teresa about traditions, present society, and aging.

Image on the left: Teresa Mular

How is it in New York at the moment?

It is spring and spring is a wonderful season. I think that the most powerful seasons in life are spring and autumn. The parks are beautiful, the trees are blooming, the flowers are coming out with all their colours, and it nourishes the soul. That’s very important. It’s a sense of renewal, it’s the rebirth. My background is in obstetrics and gynecology and I’ve delivered lots of babies. Birth has a meaning that’s beyond the actual word. I love to see anything that has a light and a sense of renewal. 

What led you to cinematography after working as a doctor?

I practiced in obstetrics and gynecology for many years. When I stopped I went to Florence to study Italian and also because I love art. I was staying with a couple in their home. They were very much interested in art and classical music. They said they would have wanted to go to Buenos Aires where I was raised but it was very expensive and very far away from them. I said them not to worry and planned to find a DVD that will show them the city. I went to visit my family and looked for DVDs. They were all about tango only or food only. I thought I would like to show these friends something more than tango and food. I grew up in a family that was related to the arts. So, the opera house, the painters, and the museums meant a lot to me and I wanted to share that with them. I thought maybe I should do that. The only thing I had was a love for photography but I never had any exposure to filmmaking. I did everything except the editing and I hired a photographer from Buenos Aires. I wrote the whole script and it became a tetralogy. I brought it back to my friends in Florence and they liked it so much. They told me about a film festival in Florence that is run by women and about women and for women. They suggested me to present it there. So, I did and they accepted it at their festival. That became the bug that I caught — to do more, to tell stories. That was in 2012. Then I just continued discovering subjects to tell stories about. 

Why did you choose this particular topic of old age? What inspired you?

It’s a phenomenon of ageism. The people that I know have not been afraid of becoming older and are so full of zest. Mainly I did this film to share the fact that you can get old but not feel it and be able to express yourself. I’m doing another one with men. I already interviewed someone who’s 101. He’s so full of life. I’m not that old but I’m not that young either. I’m somewhere in between. I always was lucky and I was offered jobs after I came to New York. I never had to apply for a job. I taught at the medical school for many years and then I had a practice that I had on my own. So, I was my boss. I know from other people and friends that if they’re looking for jobs and they pass the age of 40-45 they already have difficulties in encountering a job. I thought it’s a subject that is becoming more and more important as we move on. People are getting to live longer than in the past. 

Image on the left: Teresa Mular

I’m currently reading the book ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. Klara is an artificial intelligence subject. It makes you wonder about age and the human condition. The fact that automatons or certain devices can do the jobs that otherwise people were doing before will add to the dilemma of aging and being able to find a job because we are being replaced by automatons. We have to design devices and adapt to aging. On one hand, we are getting older and on the other hand, we are being replaced by this artificial intelligence.  

Ruth is now 96 and she is still giving concerts and practicing every day for four hours. She was supposed to go to Japan and Taiwan last March. But because of the pandemic, she was stuck. This lady is another example of how striking someone can be at 96. And she doesn’t have any plans to stop. I like to have inspiring subjects in the work that I do. 

Dodo told these words about the closeness between man and woman at the time of your youth: ‘Don’t touch. Don’t feel. Don’t look’. Now the social norms are opposite. Why do you think it happens? What do you think about it?

I grew up in Argentina and my parents were very strict although none of them were from Argentina. My mother was born in Ukraine. By and large, in those days I had to be very careful when I went out with boys. I graduated from medical school at 23 and I came to work here in New York. One of my first patients was 14 and was pregnant with twins. She was laboring to deliver the babies and was complaining of pain. She asked me if I had babies. I answered that I’m not married. Her answer was — you don’t have to be married to have babies. She looked at me and thought I was coming from the moon. But I was coming from a different culture. 

Dodo’s Birthday

The Sexual revolution happened in America in the 60s. There was an interesting article about that in ‘The New York Times’. It’s been now almost 50 years since the Sexual revolution. Now it seems that there is a reversal to go back to what it used to be. We change and that’s okay. I believe in the freedom of human spirits as long as we don’t harm anybody else. 

Ruth told the story of how her Dad made her play the violin instead of the piano as she wanted. Where is the boundary of parents’ care and where does the control start? 

Interestingly, you say that. I just was attending another Zoom meeting about Yasha Heifetz. He’s the violinist whose mother was very punishing and kept telling him that he’s not good. He ended up being who he was. He was a genius. 

Ruth — the pianist from the fil — in her youth

I read a book that Ruth Slenczynska wrote many times. It’s a book about her life. When she was little she wasn’t allowed to go out to play with others in case she would hurt her fingers. Growing up, her best friend was the piano. She didn’t want to play the violin as her father told her to. That’s why she threw it against the wall. Her father’s strong personality got her into some degree of trouble if you will. She decided what she wanted. She escaped her house at the age of 17. The reason was her father telling her that she did a terrible job with Rachmaninov who was one of her teachers and that he hated her for that. He threw all of her piano music sheets on the floor. She had enough. Not long after she met a man and she married him. He was like her father. She would give concerts and get the money and put it in the house. The husband would end up not working and just letting her work. She chose the wrong person in a way but it didn’t last long. Eventually, she married someone else who admired her for her talents and was not abusing her.

Although her father was an abusive person he got her into the regimented way of learning and to this day she practices four hours every day. There are pluses and minuses in our relationships with others. Her memory at 96 is much better than mine for sure. 

I was amazed by how nimbly and slightly she played the piano at her age. Her hands weren’t shaking at all and she did that with such grace!

When I came to Ruth’s house to record her playing the piano we started at noon. She kept playing for the sound engineer to do the best take. At three o’clock she said she was hungry and wants to stop for lunch. She was playing for three hours. It’s amazing. Her agility is very inspiring. She is so sweet. She can tell a lot of stories from her memory. It’s striking as well. We are not all so lucky to have that. She is very special. 

What do you think people lost throughout ages and what did we get?

Throughout ages, we have lost the ability to connect with another person. Humans are very different from some animals. We are social creatures. We need to connect with others. Social media allows people to connect but also can have a harmful effect. The human contact is not just being in Zoom but also, maybe because I’m Latin, being close and embraced. It is playing music together and dancing together. For example, after our interview, I would give you a kiss. I would not shake your hand because this is not how I feel it. I traveled a lot and I think the British are much more resistant to that. They don’t touch and they just shake the hand. That’s the way they are. I prefer a human touch because you feel the connection. 

There is a metaphor with the sea in the film. The waves come in and then they go away. This is the flow of life. Maybe we have lost something but eventually, it will come back.

Shooting ‘Can’t Stop the Sun from Shining’. Teresa Mular talks to Adele Gordon

Do you believe in one and happy love for the whole life?

It’s possible. But I’ve been married three times. I became a widow at a very young age. 

I love my mother and that was a happy love but she passed away. So did my father. If you were referring to a happy love with a partner then I would say that maybe I am difficult. I don’t know. I’m not a picnic. I have my personality which is very strong and I don’t like to be bossed around. I don’t like to order other people either but I need some time and space to do what I want to do. I have made it clear three times that I was married. I like opera and concerts and if you don’t I will still do it. 

Some people can love the same person forever. I love music forever. But I don’t know if I can say that love with a partner is forever. I can say love with my mother is forever. I love her very much and I was very lucky to have her. 

It seems that young people today have much more depressions or other mental issues than before. How do you explain that? 

Children of Asians tend to commit suicide because they are pushed to a limit to achieve some degree of college graduation and they are expected to fulfill the parents’ goals. In the States, we have great proportions of drug use. It all goes to this split of families. Parents work on two jobs and children are left alone or don’t have the guidance of parents as I had or we had in the very past. They are on a road, metaphorically speaking, driving with closed eyes. You can’t see and you just keep going. You don’t have breaks and you start taking drugs and there’s nothing you can put the foot to stop it. It leads to a domino effect. One thing comes from another and these people end up in depression and suicide. It’s very sad. 

The worst thing about that is that this lifestyle is being advertised in cinematography, in TV shows, in music. 

I see sometimes the news from Argentina. It’s not like before. The kids are drinking beers, then they drive, take selfies with a glass of wine and then they crash. It is shown in movies. It has to stop. When you are young you think that you would live forever. You don’t want to be ostracized and do what others do because you think it’s cool. Then you either have parents like mine that were very controlling or you don’t have any control and you just go, end up alone and dead. It’s a very serious problem. 

Dodo says that she has no regrets about her life. What about you? 

I don’t know if I have any regrets. I think that I view any negative moment in my life as a learning experience rather than a regret. As long as I learn from my mistakes then I keep moving. I’m not perfect like artificial intelligence and I make mistakes. I learn on the go.

Teresa Mular. Interview in New York regarding the film ‘Can’t Stop the Sun from shining’

What changed in your way of thinking after you made the film and heard these stories?

I reaffirmed the fact that I can continue working on what I am doing at this moment and not feeling rejected or isolated because of it. When I go to the festivals I am not the youngest. I am probably the oldest. I got inspired by these women knowing that even as I age I can continue doing my work. I am very energetic and I do exercise every day. I think always that I want to live as intensely as possible. Living like that makes me feel useful to others and myself. 

What is the secret of a long and happy life?

It is about allowing the sun to come in. It’s allowing the light to go into your soul. It is allowing your spirit to be creative. If our genetic makeup is such that we get sick there is no control over that. When my husband was dying he was in the hospital in Boston. One day they called me and said that he was in a coma. I took a plane immediately. I went there and even though he was in a coma I was talking to him. He passed away after half an hour. I realized that even if the person is comatose he can hear something. I think that the secret to a longer life is to have a zest and interests and not to block yourself with drugs, alcohol, or stupid TV. You need to get excited about things. We all have a soul and mind. The soul cannot be killed and the mind might be injured. We can always renew it. As long as we feel that our soul is intact and our spirit can grow back if we have that will to live then we can move along. They say in Latin: ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’. That means ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’. 

We also have a joke in Argentina — work is healthy and if it’s healthy let the sick people work. That’s why the country is in the condition it is. We need to take good care of our bodies and our minds.

Johann George Zimmerman said that the person should be lonely two times in his life. When he is young — to learn more and choose the way of thinking. And in old age — to consider everything experienced throughout life. What do you think about that?

I think very much like that. Yesterday when I went to sleep I saw a notification from the woman from my medical school through LinkedIn. I was so happy to recall that past because I had beautiful adolescence. My years in medical school were great. We did crazy things but it was healthy. I was so happy to remember that. As we get older we get the sense of revival of those days when we were younger. When I was young and learning I took many lessons on piano and I wrote certain things on my piano sheets. I brought the piano music with me and I saw that I wrote these words: ‘I want to be alone. I want to think and I need time to be alone’. So, I agree with that saying. 

Caption from the film by Teresa Mular ‘Can’t Stop the Sun from Shining’

What would you call your best age and why?

It was between the ages of 30 and 45. I would say those were the years when I was spiritually flying.

Favourite directors

federico Fellini; ingrid Bergman; sergei Eisenstein; Luchino Visconti

 Favourite music compositions

I am an opera fan. I love classical music from ‘Boris Godunov’ by Mussorgsky to ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Tchaikovsky; Tango 

Favourite authors

Murakami; CERVANTES; Baudelaire; Tolstoy and Dostoevsky