Doc fol­lows el­derly ath­letes who are still mak­ing a racket

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

THE com­pet­i­tive ping pong on view in this Brit doc­u­men­tary does not re­sem­ble the sport as played by youth­ful Olympians who stand about 10 feet away from the ta­ble, smash­ing and dart­ing like ten­nis play­ers.

The rea­son for that? The film’s sub­jects are all over the age of 80.

But the movie doesn’t pa­tron­ize or cutesy up its se­nior sub­jects. In­deed, the viewer is awed into a kind of re­spect for th­ese clos­eto-the-ta­ble ath­letes, in­clud­ing an English­man named Les D’Arcy who, at 89, trains by lift­ing weights and cuts an im­pres­sive fig­ure in the ping pong arena.

His some­time part­ner Terry Don­lon, 81, is no less im­pres­sive. Hav­ing bat­tled can­cer for years, he oc­ca­sion­ally has to stop play to rest his arms on the ta­ble, gasp­ing for breath.

One fears di­rec­tor Hugh Hart­ford’s cam­era will wit­ness his col­lapse and demise any minute. But he sol­diers on. And one can’t help but be im­pressed. Many of the play­ers de­picted here may ac­tu­ally be flirt­ing with death as they take on the rigours of a ping pong event in China.

One fe­male com­peti­tor says she would rather die at the ping pong ta­ble than die in a hospi­tal. You have to re­spect that. Di­rected by Hugh Hart­ford Cine­math­eque PG 76 min­utes

out of five

Hart­ford’s sub­jects are a di­verse lot. One 85-year-old woman named Lisa Modlich, from Hous­ton, seems a par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive com­peti­tor, given to trash-talk. One is in­clined to dis­like her un­til she dis­cusses her his­tory, which in­cludes work­ing for the French Un­der­ground dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Per­haps the most in­spi­ra­tional rea­son to see the film is a Ger­man woman named Inge Her­mann whose late-in-life pas­sion for the game may have helped re­verse a bout with de­men­tia.

Less in­spi­ra­tional but still per­versely ad­mirable: an 80-year-old gent from in­ner Mon­go­lia who re­fuses to quit smok­ing.

Ping Pong isn’t really a movie about ping pong. It’s a movie about ag­ing grace­fully, and it teaches by ex­am­ple.

Les D’Arcy, now 91, is a 12-times Euro­pean and world cham­pion in sin­gles and dou­bles.

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