Love Movie

Golden Years

Cinema is replete with examples of stories about old couples getting their groove back in their later years. Old age is, after all, a kind of new adolescence, as kids grow old, careers become less important, and your dwindling remaining years gives you more license to throw caution to the wind. That is, if you’ve got enough social and financial capital to pull it off — which is why a lot of these kinds of films (from “Book Club” to “Something’s Gotta Give”) tend to feature upper-middle-class seniors luxuriating in the exotic destinations and well-furnished homes that give them license to find love, rather than stress about their shrinking 401(k)s. “Golden Years” is one of these films, as cloying and unassuming as one could expect. But luckily, it’s got a lot more on its mind, and its solutions to the problem of a dead-bedroom marriage are novel enough to offer something more substantial.

Barbara Kulcsar’s film begins at a moment of transition: Sexagenarians Peter (Stefan Kurt) and Alice (Esther Gemsch) prep for retirement after the former packs up his desk following 37 years of loyal service. (No one will be filling his position; his office will become a server room. Even his job is redundant.) Both look forward to the freedom that retirement will bring, but that means something different to each of them: Alice wants to use this time to rekindle their passion, but Peter has grown used to his habits of obsessive cardio and just wants to be left alone. 

But two incidents thrust the pair into a radical reassessment of their lives and love for each other. First, Alice’s close friend Magalie (Elvira Plüss) dies unexpectedly on a hike, but not before pointing Alice towards love letters she’s kept from a mysterious lover she’s had an affair with for fifteen years. Then, Peter and Alice’s kids give them two tickets to a Mediterranean cruise as a gift. Alice is thrilled; this is the chance she’s been waiting for to rekindle their fire. But Peter is less than enthused, which may be one reason he’s invited Magalie’s widow, the kind but morose Heinz (Ueli Jäggi), along with them in his time of need. 

At this point, it’d be tempting for “Golden Years” to go down a more gruesome, tongue-in-cheek class satire aboard a cruise ship, a la “Triangle of Sadness.” But Kulcsar and screenwriter Petra Volpe are interested in something far gentler and loping, which makes for paradoxically more fulfilling viewing. It doesn’t take too many days of Heinz eating up Peter’s time and attention, and the latter’s resigned admission to Alice that he’s no longer interested in sex, before Alice literally jumps ship in Marseilles. She wants a “time out” from her dissatisfying marriage, and wanders Europe to return Magalie’s letters to her long-lost lover.

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