Festival Daily

By Ghita Loebenstein

On the silver glow of the big cinema screen, lust is always youthful and taut, while the first flush of love is usually reserved for the nubile domain of the under-25s. But in real life, older people do fall in love, and sex does not cease to exist for many in their twilight years. Three directors at this year’s Festival have dared to open that creaky bedroom door and peer inside.

“We are afraid of seeing the naked bodies of older people because they don’t look as beautiful as those we see in magazines and newspapers everyday. They are getting older. Their skin is not as soft as it was when they were 20,” says German director Andreas Dresen. “But it’s the cinema that has to tell stories about the reality of our lives, and I think the reality of getting older is a fact that has to be in the stories we are telling on screen.” Dresen’s film Cloud 9 follows a passionate love affair between an elderly couple, opening with a very frank sex scene between a man and a woman in their advanced years. It’s not Shortbus, but there’s no soft focus either. There are wrinkles and tummies and flustered moans of ecstasy.

“Like many people, I always thought that sexuality and passion stop when you are 60 or 70. When we are young, we don’t believe that our parents can have still sex. Now I know better, but it is still not so easy to think about elderly people having sex, so I found it really interesting to tell this love story.”

While researching Cloud 9, Dresen became frustrated that the love stories he did find between older people in film often relegated the bedroom scenes to sepia-toned representations of sexuality. But more than simply putting old people in bed, Dresen wanted to bring a touch of reality back to cinematic sex. “We had a lot of discussions about the sex scenes because so many films have perfect lovers. Everything works, they never look ugly and there are no accidents. Every time I see that, it makes me wonder if I’m a bad lover. Sometimes it looks funny. Sometimes it’s difficult. People are sweating, and it’s difficult to get your clothes off. So we wanted to give a realistic view of sex between elderly people, but also address the topic of sex in cinema in general.”

Cloud 9’s star-crossed lovers have both been in love before, but the process of falling for each other is still a terrifying and exciting one. In Dresen’s mind, the terror and hypnotic risk of love is still just as potent for the old as it is for the young. “Maybe our bodies are getting older, but our soul never gets old. You can fall in love at 70 like you do at 17.”

Nik Fackler struck upon this very same thought when he himself was just 17. That was the age that he began to write the screenplay for what has become his debut feature, Lovely, Still. It tells the story of an elderly bachelor who falls in love for the first time. For Robert and Mary (played by the esteemed Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn), the tender days of new love are as giddy and stupefying as we know young love to be.

Fackler is now 24 and inarguably wise. “The feelings and emotions that you experience while going through something as powerful as falling in love never change, no matter how old you are. It’s something that we can all share together,” he says. “You’re in a different mindset, a different body, but what you feel is love. That’s something that we all share as humans, this ability to fall in love.

“And so that’s where I got interested in the concept of a man who’s never been in love late in his life, and to have him go through that experience and to kind of watch and see how someone that age handles it.”

Fackler started writing Lovely, Still as he fell in love for the first time. “I was going through all of those feeling that I’d never really felt before, and I felt it was really important to use that, in a way. I wanted to write a story but I didn’t want to just write a story about a kid who falls in love for the first time.” Instead, Fackler met an old man at the restaurant where he was waiting tables at the time. The man was a long-time bachelor who had never married or had a girlfriend.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this guy has never gone through what I’m going through right now,’ and that’s where the story started.

By contrast, the subjects of Argentine director Daniel Burman’s new film have been married – and out of lust – for years. Empty Nest is a Woody Allen-style comedy about the problems inherent in married life and the difficulties associated with keeping a long-term relationship new and exciting. The children of Leonardo (Oscar Martínez) and Martha (Cecilia Roth) have left home, and their marriage has reached the precipice of boredom. Now they must find a way to rediscover their spark.

“The film is about how you build happiness in the family. This is a very special happiness. It’s not the same happiness as your own happiness, because building a family and concentrating on the happiness of your wife and your kids distracts you from what you want for yourself personally,” says Burman.

As Burman’s empty nesters begin to realize their neglected selves, Martha finds a thriving life at university while Leonardo loses himself to the realm of fantasy. Their struggle is to find a way to reconnect as a couple.

“The movie is not only about lost passion; it’s a symptom of losing other things. It’s a consequence. We lose passion when we lose ourselves.”

Only when Leonardo reinvents – and rediscovers – himself can the passion reignite. “When you reinvent yourself, you can reinvent your relationship with the world, but when you are not living your real life, you cannot establish a relationship with anybody else.”

For Dresen, Fackler and Burman – as well as many others in real life and on screen – you can never be too old to fall in love again. 

Sept. 12, 9:15am, Scotiabank Theatre 1

Sept. 13, 9:00am, Varsity 8     
Sept. 13, 5:45pm, AMC 2