Movie review: 'Cloud 9'

A romance between two elderly people transforms and reinvigorates their lives – but not without consequences.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

There are plenty of May-December movie romances, but "Cloud 9" offers the welcome spectacle of two oldsters discovering romantic bliss, even though that bliss ultimately comes at the expense of others.

Inge (Ursula Werner) is a 67-year-old married woman from East Berlin who repairs clothing at home while her husband, Werner (Horst Rehberg), fills out his time listening to recordings of vintage trains. When Inge delivers a pair of trousers to a client, 76-year-old Karl (Horst Westphal), it's not long before both are rolling in the hay. Inge didn't plan this exactly, and for a while she resists his entreaties for an encore. But, although she appears to have a comfy life with Werner, with whom she's been married for 30 years, she wants, at this late date for both of them, something more.

Director Andreas Dresen allowed the actors to improvise their material, and this ploy works fitfully. None of the performers has the chops that, say, the Mike Leigh stock company might have brought to this material, and Dresen overdoes the looming close-ups of Inge in all her frazzled, dumpy glory. She's an odd heroine: Although her amatory escapade ignites her vitality, she insists, against the advice of her daughter, on telling Werner what she's up to. It's not clear why she does this. Dresen, of course, was under no obligation to provide clarity if his heroine lacks it. Still, her truth-telling has a vengeful underside that he never really explores.

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It would have been better if Karl had been portrayed as something more than a good-natured dandy. We never get a clue what he thinks of this ménage. And Werner, although his character is much more filled in than Karl's, is essentially one-note as well. The whole show here is Inge, and how much you like the movie may well depend on how you respond to her revivifying dopiness.

The reason I single out "Cloud 9" for review is somewhat extracurricular. Especially in America, the sight of two senior citizens making love in the movies is practically taboo. It's bad enough that Hollywood has almost entirely avoided making movies about oldsters. To compound the folly, Hollywood pretends that old people shut down at age 60 and turn into ornery, harmless codgers. There is a whole generation of 60-plus actors in Hollywood (and not only in Hollywood) who have been denatured by the industry's ageism.

"Cloud 9" may not be my idea of a great movie, but it doesn't pretend that old folks are, by definition, sexless. In the movie business, this qualifies as a revolution. Grade: B-

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