REVIEW: The Aged of "Innocence"; Cox Restores Dignity to Elderly Love
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/ 08.16.01) –No one mirrors Hollywood’s attitude toward the aged better than Homer Simpson: “Old people don’t need companionship. They need to be isolated and studied so it can be determined what nutrients they have that might be extracted for our personal use.”
One of the West Coast’s few serious and right-on depictions took place with Leo McCarey‘s “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937) featuring Victor Moore and Beaulah Bondi as the put-upon oldsters. Here an elderly couple, still immensely in love, are permanently separated by their self-centered children, none of whom want to house both their parents. The final scene of the two saying farewell at a train station is one of the more honestly-earned, heart-rending, tearjerker moments of that decade.
There have, of course, been several other fine depictions of the problems of becoming increasingly wrinkled and age-spotted: Lee Grant‘s “Tell Me a Riddle” (1980); Bryan Forbes‘ “The Whisperers” (1966); and Vittorio DeSica‘s magnificent “Umberto D” (1952).
Trying to rectify this situation for decades has been the Dutch-born, Australian-based, self-proclaimed socialist, director Paul Cox. His main problem has been raising money for such efforts. As he’s noted in interviews: “Everywhere, all around the world, 95 per cent of the material screened is American; a second-rate product that we are forced to swallow. This is the big shame of film today.”
Throughout his career, Cox has fought to depict the middle-aged and the
oldish with respect and wit. Even in 1979’s “Kostas,” a tale of a taxi-driving
Greek political escapee who falls for an Australian mother, the hero is confronted with the age issue while watching TV. For no apparent plot reason, an on-in-years woman is interviewed. She appears to be in an old-age home from where she shares, “It’s like a living death. We’re sitting here waiting for the final call.”
In Cox’s early international success, “Man of Flowers” (1984), the hero is a reclusive, aging, balding, premature ejaculator who pays a young model to strip to Beethoven for him every Wednesday. Fragile and eccentric, Charles Bremmer (Norman Kaye) eventually saves the day for the model by killing her addict boyfriend and having his corpse transformed into a bronze statue that he donates to a public park.
Then Cox tackled the aging issue head-on with the glorious “A Woman’s Tale” (1991). Here the celluloid activist rushed to make a film about Marta, 78, a feisty woman with cancer who fights to die in her own apartment surrounded by her canary Jesus and the rest of her tattered belongings. Speed was needed because his lead actress, Sheila Florance, was dying from cancer and only had a few more months to live. The result was a life-affirming classic that insisted that mourning you are past your prime is a waste of precious time. Live and be kind to all. Even with her last breath, Marta avows, “Keep love alive.”
Now with his already internationally acclaimed “Innocence,” Cox, who’s restored dignity to septuagenarians on film, adds sensuality.
“Innocence’s” heroes are a retired organist Andreas (Charles Tingwell) and Claire (Julia Blake). The two were lovers in post-war Belgium when he was a student and she was the daughter of an Australian diplomat. Now over fifty years later in Australia, Andreas contacts Claire and the two meet for lunch. “So much has happened yet nothing much has happened,” they note.
Julia is stuck in a passionless marriage to John (Terry Norris). Their son is a doctor. Andreas has been a widower for thirty years, He has a daughter.
Can the two start off where they left off? Julia doubts it: “I’m too old for a mid-life crisis.”
Then one day the pair meet at the cemetery where Andreas’s wife’s remains are being transferred to a new location because the cemetery’s proprietor notes, “We’re moving the whole cemetery. This is prime real estate now.”
Julia, while comforting a distraught Andreas, sees her resolve dissolve. Soon the two are in bed making love and the camera refuses to stray from their bodies. The scene, besides being utterly enthralling, is momentous in its obvious yet seldom voiced message that passion and romance and the need to be held does not end ten years after puberty.
The duo’s affair is embraced by some and ridiculed by others such as Claire’s John who believes his wife has lost her marbles.
But love does win out here as do we. Here is a panacea for those of us fearful of sagging breasts, testicles and rears. With brave, perfect performances by the leads and fine direction and writing by Cox, “Innocence” might just make you scream out like Julia does, “I want to be foolish . . . vulnerable.” It might also start getting you to buy condoms for grandpa and benwah balls for grandma. Stick that in your Geritol.