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Between Love and Marriage, Something's Gotta Give

Cloud 9 (2008)

Soda Pictures

When it comes to the perennially prickly subject of sex and nudity on the cinema screen, opinion may be divided into three broad camps: those people who regard celluloid sex as wholly offensive and unacceptable, people who see such things as just part of modern filmgoing, and a certain contingent who regard on-screen copulation as a prerequisite to a fulfilling movie experience. Presumably this latter group prefer its bare flesh to be served tight, toned and youthful. In which case those filmgoers are in for a surprise if they watch “Cloud 9,” lured in by the promise of some steamy action. There is plenty of skin on show here, but it is all proudly wrinkled, saggy and well past 60.

“Cloud 9” is the oft-told tale of a woman who, after being married for many years, begins an affair with a man younger than her husband. Only in this case the younger man is 76. Inge (Ursula Werner) is in her mid-60s and now retired but she makes a little money repairing clothing on her sewing machine.

Among her customers is Karl (Horst Westphal) who Inge takes quite a fancy to, and one day drops by his home to deliver a pair of trousers. This is merely a ploy to get closer to Karl, and it works: For no sooner has the man tried the trousers on then he is taking them off again, and the couple is tenderly making love on the floor, bathed in a holy sunlight. One would not want to label the couple as impetuous, but all this happens before the opening titles.

Society – fixated on youth and beauty – has an odd attitude to carnal intercourse between the elderly. For the most part, it is treated as something that clearly exists but is best not thought about, along with death and D.I.Y. “Cloud 9” is not so shy, confronting the subject head on, as it were. The sex scenes in the film may raise a few eyebrows if nothing else, but they are handled sensitively and with the minimum of fuss.

This early encounter becomes a fully-fledged love affair, but Inge is already married and has been for the past 30 years to Werner (Horst Rehberg). Her husband is a kind and rather lovely fellow who generously raised Inge’s children from a previous relationship. Sadly, Werner is not the most exciting of men. He is no slouch in the sex stakes himself, but his great love after Inge is steam engines. Werner’s idea of a good night in is listening to vinyl recordings of old trains puffing their way out of stations, each one’s number and location announced in sonorous tones.

Werner is somewhat like a steam engine himself – slow, old fashioned and reliable. Compared to him, Karl is a human dynamo, whizzing around the German countryside on his bike like the independent free spirit that he is. The attraction for Inge is obvious: Karl makes her feel young again. They go on picnics, run through the rain and skinny dip in the river like a couple a third their age. Oh, and they make love, of course, quite a lot (use your own barometer on this one) and mostly successfully (ditto).

But there are three people in this relationship, and Inge begins to feel pangs of guilt over her betrayal of Werner. She visits her daughter for advice, but the younger woman merely tells Inge to go for it while she still can. Eventually, Inge crumbles and faces Werner with the truth, unsure as to how he will react. This is when the real trouble starts.

“Cloud 9” is a brave and frank film that tackles its subject – a love affair in the later years of life, with the minimum of soft-focus sentiment. It opens up an interesting moral dilemma about how to behave when confronted with a chance to defy one’s own mortality. Is it better to embrace life’s sensual pleasures when offered and hang the consequences, or should one always think of others and how they might be affected, even if it means going gently into that dark night?

Inge is not an entirely sympathetic person. She sings regularly in a choir, but she is no angel. It is hard to like her for betraying her husband in order to have one last grasp at fleeting happiness, but paradoxically, it is hard to hate her for much the same reason. Inge is played expertly and with warm humanity by Ms. Werner, a regular in the films of “Cloud 9's” director Andreas Dresden. In fact, all three performances are pretty well flawless.

In the end, the film goes just that little bit too far with a melodramatic final twist that does not seem to fit in with the naturalness of the film as a whole. The scenes between Inge and Werner, once the affair has been revealed, are heartbreaking enough thanks to their believability, without the need to visit further trauma upon the couple.

The final consequences of Inge’s behavior are so grave that what has been, up to that point, a non-judgmental film suddenly appears to have become subject to some sort of morality code where the “slutty” heroine must pay for her wickedness. On the whole, however, taking a trip to “Cloud 9” is well worth your time.

Cloud 9

Opens on Aug. 14 in New York, on Aug. 28 in Los Angeles and on July 10 in Britain.

Directed by Andreas Dresen; story development by Mr. Dresen, Cooky Ziesche, Laila Stieler and Jörg Hauschild; director of photography, Michael Hammon; edited by Mr. Hauschild; production designer, Susanne Hopf; produced by Peter Rommel; released by Music Box Films (United States) and Soda Pictures (Britain). In German, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Ursula Werner (Inge), Horst Rehberg (Werner), Horst Westphal (Karl) and Steffi Kühnert (Petra).


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