Inge, a 67-year-old woman plunges into an affair with a 76-year-old man, Werner, and faces the consequences it brings to her 30-year marriage. Add a dollop of senior citizen sex and nudity, and Cloud Nine sounds like a tasteless spin on the marital drama. But director Andreas Dresen — who made the wonderful ode to enduring friendship, Summer in Berlin — guided by a sensitive script (which he co-wrote), and aided by a first-rate cast, has created a sincere, thoughtful tale of the human heart.
Cloud Nine calls to mind such “forbidden romance” antecedents as the equally beautiful, unconventional Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (by Dresen’s German Cinema progenitor Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Whereas Fassbinder’s film explored an elderly woman’s love for a younger North African in terms of the affair’s racial and cultural ripple effects, Dresen’s film plumbs the subtleties of Inge’s (Ursula Werner) strained home life vis-a-vis her wronged husband, Karl (Horst Westphal) — a coolly detached, intellectual type — counterbalancing it with the sense of pure, unfettered joy she feels in Werner’s (Horst Rehberg) amorous company. Dresen’s decision to cast older actors does smack of gimmickry to the extent that it distracts us from the fact that this is an all-too-familiar account of infidelity and marital breakdown. But, as familiar as any story seems, it’s the details that count. And here’s where Cloud Nine shines.
Choosing to tell the story of characters experiencing new love in the twilight of their lives plays to Dressen’s point that, no matter the lovers’ age, the yearnings and betrayals felt by the heart are the same at 20 as at 80. Psychologically speaking, Dresen breaks no new ground: Inge, Werner, and Karl harbor predictable sentiments. Their scenes of emotional strife — from Karl’s humiliation and rage in learning of Inge’s affair to Inge’s helplessness in the face of passion and Werner’s shows of tenderness — comprise the overused tropes of the romantic triangle sub-genre. Cloud Nine’s rewards, rather, are in its textures: in the brave, brilliant Werner, Rehberg, and Westphal’s masterful interplay of glances, gestures and moods; in the sounds of percolating coffee denoting domestic routine, the frequent (perhaps too frequent) motifs of trains and sudden, heavy downpours suggesting lives in fits of passion and transition. It’s through the film’s textures that Dresen and his cast communicate the complex inner lives of his characters, and, to any viewer attuned to it, the story reveals worlds of grief and joy that the surfaces of ordinary lives can only suggest.
Directed by: Andreas Dresen
Written by: Andreas Dresen, Jorg Hauschild, Laila Stieler, Conny Ziesche
Cast: Ursula Werner, Horst Rehberg, Horst Westphal, Steffi Kuhnert