BERLIN (AFP) — That butterflies and goose bumps can take anyone at any age by surprise is the simple message of the startling new German film "Cloud 9", an explicit look at a love triangle among seniors.
The rare, liver spots-and-all depiction of elderly lovers in the first blush of infatuation has electrified German critics and drawn blanket coverage in the country's culture pages ahead of its cinematic release Thursday.
What is sensational about the film is that it features on-top-of-the-covers sex between a sexagenarian grandmother and the 76-year-old object of her affection, as well as between the woman and her husband of 30 years.
The shocking novelty of such scenes comes at the right time in a country coming to terms with an ageing populace that refuses to be written off when it hits retirement.
The story itself, as told by hot east German director Andreas Dresen, is so simple it could take place at nearly any time, in nearly any culture.
"Who would want to see a couple of chubby, wrinkly seniors having sex? Quite simply: anyone who finally wants to experience a realistic, passionate and moving love story," the mass-market Bild newspaper wrote in a glowing review.
"Dresen and his actors go at it so uncompromisingly and fearlessly that it is a joy for any real movie fan."
"Wolke 9" (Cloud 9), named after lyrics in a John Lennon song, presents Inge, a retiree who earns a bit of extra cash as a seamstress.
When the charming Karl tries on a pair of trousers she has just altered, it is only a matter of minutes before the two are rolling around like teenagers on the rug in his living room.
Inge later goes home, still flustered by the sudden passion that came over her, to find her kindly husband of three decades, Werner, waiting patiently for her.
A loving wife, Inge humours Werner's hobby of listening to recordings of antique trains and cheerfully accompanies him on placid outings on the local commuter rail.
Their sex life is still active too, and the camera captures Inge tenderly washing Werner's hair while he takes a bath and the couple's enthusiastic lovemaking in a creaky old bed.
But Inge finds herself unable to resist Karl's advances and eventually ignores her adult daughter's advice by telling Werner about her secret affair.
"Should I just fritter away the last 20 years of my life?" Inge shouts in the anguished scene.
Her confession has tragic consequences for all involved, in an ending that drew a standing ovation and tears at the film's Berlin premiere, just as it did when it captured a minor prize at the Cannes film festival in May.
"Cloud 9" owes a debt to trailblazers such as the 1970s cult classic "Harold and Maude" and the 2003 indie hit "The Mother" starring future James Bond star Daniel Craig in a May-December romance with a much older woman.
Dresen also had his team watch Patrice Chereau's "Intimacy" for its unflinching look at two imperfect bodies coupling.
The filmmaker, whose kitchen-sink dramas have drawn comparisons with Britain's Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, said his aim had been to take a fresh look at ageing.
"Love can sneak up on you at any point," he said at the Berlin screening.
"I was stunned about the big fuss made in the media about the sex because it is only a small part of the film and not necessarily the most important one."
The picture's brave performances and frank, improvised dialogue by three veteran stage actors drew rapturous applause.
But there were also a few nervous giggles during the first sex scene from a group of white-haired ladies in a reporter's row.
"My husband sits around on the sofa all the time watching television," said retired secretary Ursula Bullack, 71.
"I can't say what I would do if a man like the one in the movie turned up in my life."
Her 69-year-old friend Ute Sprang said seniors' love lives could of course be as rich and complex as any other adult's.
"But when you are that age you can understand the incredible and tragic impact a decision like that can have," she said of Inge's dilemma.
"I did not find the sex scenes shocking -- to me they were completely natural, although I have never seen something like it on screen."
A study released last month by researchers at the University of Chicago found that more than three in four American men between 75 and 85 and every other woman that age are still interested in sex.
The Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung splashed a photograph of the film's late-in-life lovers in bed across its front page under the headline "Yes we can!" and called age the next front in the sexual revolution.
"Today's forty-somethings had better get ready: instead of dealing with inheritance laws and managing health care they may have to deal with the consequences of their parents' emotional escapades," it said.
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