Elsa and Fred (DistriMax, PG-13)

film_elsa_sm.jpgIt’s too bad Elsa and Fred is not a better movie, because the lead actors (Manuel Alexandre as Fred and Chila Zorrilla as Elsa) are great.





Elsa and Fred is a teenagers in love film, except in this case the teenagers are 78 and 82 years old. Director Marcos Carnevale makes sure to get his ticket punched at every station in this journey through cinematic convention. Opposites meet cute. First they’re fighting, then they’re kissing. They complete each other. Outsiders can’t understand. Their families try to interfere. But nothing matters except their true true love, which exists outside the nasty old world in which the rest of us are condemned to live. Carnevale even managed to work in that old Love Story trope about the mysterious but inevitably fatal disease threatening to burst the bubble of this perfect love.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against genre conventions. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy many films if I did. But a director should create a new and meaningful work using established conventions, not just make a few substitutions in the constituent elements (old for young, clueless adult children instead of clueless parents) in the hopes of creating something novel.

It’s too bad Elsa and Fred is not a better movie, because the lead actors (Manuel Alexandre as Fred and Chila Zorrilla as Elsa) are great. Zorrilla is particularly good, as she manages to make a character with many unattractive traits (including compulsive lying, smashing other people’s cars and driving off, and leaving restaurants without paying) both sympathetic and believable. But they’re stuck in a plot that is so conventional it seems to have been generated by computer. There’s never a moment’s doubt but that Elsa and Fred will get together, nor whether Elsa will get to re-enact the scene from La Dolce Vita (hint: she sees herself as Anita Ekberg) that is referenced early in the film. There are some poignant moments when the infirmities of old age are expressed on the screen, but as often they are laughed off in the spirit of love conquers all. (Suddenly going off your blood pressure and cholesterol medications without consulting your doctor is not a good idea, trust me.)

The secondary characters are all underdeveloped. The most memorable is the shrewish and bigoted Cuca (Blanca Portillo), Fred’s daughter. She dislikes Argentineans (the story is set in Madrid) and wants Fred to invest in the latest business venture of her loser husband Paco (Jose Angel Egido). Their son Javi (Omar Munoz) is the light of his grandpa’s life and injects a welcome note of reality into many scenes. The cinematography by Juan Carlos Gomez is excellent, particularly the opening credits sequence, and the sound by Jaime Barros is both appropriate and manipulative, making it a perfect match for the director’s vision. | Sarah Boslaugh

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