Dir. Andreas Dresen.Germany. 2008. 95 mins.
Love hurts - even when you’re over sixty. That’s the message of German indie director Andreas Dresen’s tough new drama, which follows with stark handheld directness the confusion, joy and suffering of apparently happy-married Inge, a woman in her mid-sixties who begins an affair with an older man. The camera does not shy away even when things get steamy, but this sex film for the Saga set draws its strength from its tight dramatic focus rather than any shock value.
This will suit an older demographic with resilient arthouse tastes and within this niche, media coverage should benefit prospects along the lines of Roger Mitchell’s The Mother.
This is easily Dresen’s most austere film, though the talent for unforced humour that came through most strongly in 2005’s Summer In Berlin breaks the surface tension more than once. There are times when the script is a little too raw and pared-back - things sometimes drag, and it comes as a relief when the script’s relentless focus on the senior triangle is broken by a couple of scenes between Inge (Werner) and her daughter Petra (Kuhnert).
The action kicks in quickly: within the first two minutes, home-based seamstress Inge is making out on the couch with Karl (Westphal), a gentlemanly 76-year-old whose trousers she has altered. It’s only later that we realise Inge has a husband - gruff-but-decent Werner (Rehlberg), also in his sixties, who likes to watch videos about diesel engines in the evenings. The catch is that Inge is still attached to her sprightly, still virile husband of thirty years, and leaving him for another man is not going to be easy.
Though the film is all about relationships, there are long passages of silence: Inge doesn’t need to say much to Karl, and after thirty years there’s not much she hasn’t said to Werner. When Inge’s decision to reveal her affair forces them to speak, they sound like twenty-year-olds rowing. The dialogue is spot on, and Werner’s performance as a woman surprised by passion when she thought there were no surprises left, is outstanding.
Dresen finds a new visual calm here, and even a touch of Vermeer in a recurring shot down a corridor into a sunlight-filled kitchen, which is a long way from the jerky, grainy aesthetic of the director’s award-winning Grill Point (2001). A couple of recurring motifs are neatly and sparingly used and include trains, which play a role - we infer - in the film’s devastating denouement.
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