Physical and emotional tumult in the golden years
At a glance, the subject matter of the German drama “Cloud 9’’ is sideshow fare: a very fleshy portrait of senior citizens demonstrating that sex drive isn’t necessarily curbed by hitting retirement age. This isn’t just physical love, warts and all, but warts, liver spots, saggy parts, and all. Still, the thing that ultimately keeps your head turned is how persuasively filmmaker Andreas Dresen (“Summer in Berlin’’) argues that desire can create just as much emotional tumult in golden years as in youth. Sometimes, apparently, the old saw about the heart wanting what it wants can apply to seniors precisely the same way it does to the young and foolish.
Fearless, broad-featured Ursula Werner plays Inge, a seamstress and grandmother who impulsively starts an affair with an affable customer, 76-year-old Karl (Horst Westphal). She shows up at his door and graphically tumbles into bed with him even before the title of the film appears on screen. In the moment, Inge is rapturous, but oh, the conflicted feelings that follow. (Inge’s shaved eyebrows may say “closet wild woman’’ — she’s like the Madonna-as-Dita of her ladies’ choir — but the angst etched on her face says otherwise.) Enter Werner (Horst Rehberg), Inge’s husband of 30 years, whose love for her hasn’t gone cold but who’s a little stodgy compared to Karl. Werner gets back to nature by taking Inge on train rides through the countryside. For Karl, it’s got to be biking or walking, because — as he notes to Inge after an open-air skinny-dip, naturally — he needs to be able to touch and smell his surroundings.
One chunk of the film focuses on Inge’s guilt over being unfaithful, another explores her regret over finally telling Werner, and the hurt she causes him. The shift is striking; in a scene that takes place one morning after Inge has confessed her infidelity, she creeps from a separate bedroom, visibly guarded, suddenly just a flatmate rather than Werner’s spouse. Dresen heightens this sense by keeping his camera stationary, awkwardly barred from the apartment’s previously familiar nooks.
However old and complacent Werner might be, he reacts with the fiery anger of a much younger man (or a more energetic one, at least). And Inge, for all her remorse, just as often flashes a girlish petulance. “After living together for so long,’’ she tells him, “we should be able to talk to each other if something like this happens.’’ But they can’t. The movie’s quietly provocative insight is that wisdom and experience may not make the least bit of difference where passion and yearning are concerned.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.