Elsa & Fred
2005, PG, 108 min. Directed by Marcos Carnevale. Starring Manuel Alexandre, China Zorrilla, Blanca Portillo, José Ángel Egido, Omar Muñoz.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 1, 2008
Old folks in love, ain’t it grand? That pretty much sums up Elsa & Fred, a septuagenarian love story from Spain that will likely warm the cockles of your heart, even though it’s hardly the stuff of great romance. Keeping with the cinematic tradition in which opposites attract, the introverted Fred (Alexandre) and the extroverted Elsa (Zorrilla) meet when she delivers a check for the damage caused by a fender bender outside the Madrid apartment building in which they both live. He is politely reserved, careful in his words and gestures; she is coyly manipulative, bending her words and gestures to fit her immediate needs. In due time, they fall for each other, though Fred has some initial difficulty with daring Elsa’s willingness to break the rules, all in the name of living. (In some ways, she’s a scaled-down version of Auntie Mame.) Zorrilla is delightfully engaging as the gregarious woman for whom truth is a relative term – jabbering incessantly, she’s concocted so many stories about her life that even she has trouble keeping up with what’s fiction and what’s not. Though her temperament can be maddening, it’s easy to see why the staid Fred finds Elsa attractive, though the film does a poor job in addressing the various familial conflicts that arise as a result of their odd coupling. But in the film’s third act, in which the two lovers go to Rome to fulfill Elsa’s lifelong dream to re-create the Trevi Fountain scene in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Elsa & Fred goes flat on charm. The dream fulfillment seems more silly than romantic, and it brings the movie to an abrupt end that is wholly unsatisfying. It’s as if director and screenwriter Carnevale ran out of ideas for this elderly couple, other than the inevitable. How refreshing it would have been to watch these two fade into the sunset. Now that would have been a love story.