JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Late Bloomers (Director: Bettina Oberli) - January 10, 2008
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Late Bloomers

Die Herbstzeitlosen

4.5 4.5
86 min.

Reviewed at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Silver threads amongst the old

Anyone with a gray, er silver, hair in their head (and their ungrateful children) will revel in Bettina Oberli’s ode to the aged that proves once and for all that there is life after 40 and 50 and 60 and 70 and …

From her imagination, life experience and Sabine Pochhammer’s well-crafted screenplay we meet a quartet of long-suffering women who get their act together around the unlikely catalyst of designing, sewing and selling lingerie. Octogenarian plus, Stephanie Glaser lights up the screen with her every frame as she plays Martha—the recently widowed shopkeeper who gave up her passion and vocation for the production of silky undergear when she married Hans and moved to the countryside (who would need a slinky G string amongst the dairy cows?). The easy metaphor of selling canned goods after their due date at a deep discount succinctly sums up how Martha and her buddies are feeling about their present value to family and friends.

Lisi (Heidi Maria Glössner, readily believable in her don’t-tell-the-children deceit), shamelessly bends the truth of both her hot-red hair colour and overseas adventures is, initially, the spunkiest of the four, helping pull Martha out of her funk on a bus trip to Berne. The Swiss-style Golden Girls are making the trek to help Martha select fabric for a recently commissioned flag for the all-male, nearly-in-tune town choir (the climactic choir festival is just weeks away). But when her obvious tactile pleasure of slippery fabrics is immediately followed by an eye-popping master class on the correct way to stitch bras, panties and the like reveals her passion for the beautiful, Lisi is inspired to push Martha out of the doldrums and into production.

Her other buds aren’t so sure that the village of Trub is ready for an upscale lingerie shop. Hanni’s (Monica Gubser) doubt stems from son Fritz (full marks to Manfred Liechti for serving up such a believable asshole-of-the-year character—seems like the religious right isn’t just confined to North America) who will stop at nothing to rid his doting electorate of such sinful enterprise. Not surprisingly, he’s trying to force his wheelchair bound dad into a home to spare himself the inconvenience of bringing the old nuisance to his therapy sessions. That hurtful decision inspires Hanni to take up driving lessons, delivering one of the funniest moments when she and her instructor light up a relieving smoke—having felt the “earth move” after a near-collision.

Over in the seniors home, the perpetually shy and retiring Frieda (Annemarie Düringer) comes out of her shell and into the delighted company of grumpy old men who are learning computer and Internet basics. Before you can say “on-line store” the scorned wares from Petite France are selling like hot pants and Frieda lands a beau.

Martha’s son provides the other large roadblock to her rekindled joy of living. The selfish vicar can hardly condone the sale of such repulsive garments by his own mother. How would that make him look? As their battle heats up and looks like another victory for do-as-I-preach-not-as-I-do dogma, the community leader’s dalliance with a nubile younger woman that isn’t his wife (marvellously they rendezvous after bible class, perhaps to reflect on the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not get caught) proves to be, er, the master stroke in Martha’s freedom. We finally know who wears the panties in their family.

Stéphanie Kuthy’s all-seeing lens captures the countryside in spectacular fashion; Luk Zimmermann’s (along with Stubemusig Rechsteiner) traditional-instrument score—with perhaps more than a cup of notes borrowed from “Greensleeves” in the melodic line—adds to the flow; but it’s Oberli’s telling points, aided and abetted by her most talented dowagers that give the film its engaging punch. Let’s hope the selfish “children” and inertia-laden seniors who need a kick in the lederhosen take their cue from this production and act accordingly. JWR

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