We watched a charming Argentinian movie last night called Elsa & Fred (Elsa y Fred in the original language). Some of the US critics didn't think that much of it, calling it too predictable. Of course it is, but the lovely detailed performances of the two principals makes it worth seeing, and anyway, the American studios must have thought it worth something as they've remade it in English, with Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine. It will be a vastly different movie, and the subtle and delightful playing of the Argentinian actress, China Zorilla, will probably be replaced by MacLaine's particular brand of brashness. Time will tell.
Anyway, the story is simple enough: an old man, recently widowed (seven months before), moves into an apartment opposite an old woman who has been widowed twenty-seven years before (or perhaps it's twenty-three - or perhaps, as we discover, she wasn't widowed at all). Elsa is a vibrant woman with a mind of her own (she is perfectly capable of handling her control freak of a son) and she quickly decides she has time for a last fling before she dies. Fred, played by Manuel Alexandre, isn't so sure. His married life has been very 'tidy', and everything he tells Elsa about himself she pronounces to have been more like death than life. But the relationship does develop, in spite of Fred's qualms, and in spite of their various children's disbelief. If Elsa's older son is controlling (her other son, an artist, is a bit of a sponger), Fred's daughter is a nightmare. The opening scene has her installing Fred in his new apartment, and everything is put in place according to her plans, not his. She is venomous, and not a lady easily crossed; her husband has a perpetual downtrodden look about him.
We delight to see Fred coming alive, but he's not the only we see differently as time goes on. It turns out there is some good reason behind the concerns of both Elsa's son and Fred's daughter. I was surprised by the turn of events about three-quarters of the way through the movie, anyway. I said to my wife, I hope this doesn't all end in tears (too many good films seem to; I must be up for happy endings these days). This film manages to avoid the tears, even though people are forced to face things more honestly than before. Furthermore, there's an ongoing genuineness about the love between the couple that overcomes the difficulties.
The film made us laugh out loud in several places - unusual in a comedy watched at home on a DVD. Most of the laughs were the result of lines delivered by Zorilla, and her subtle changes of expression. A hugely experienced actress (she was 83 at the time the movie was made) with more than fifty plays behind her and well as roles in thirty movies and various television productions. Alexandre was 88 when he made the movie. Unlike Zorilla, he is a Spaniard, born in Madrid and has performed in nearly a hundred movies. This film is set in Madrid in fact, where it seems that being an Argentinian makes you something of a peasant. Fred's daughter refers to Elsa two or three times as 'that Argentinian woman' as though it was something despised.
A genuine surprise of a movie.