ELSA & FRED Pleases with Its Delightful Tale of Love in the Twilight Years
When retired 77-years old hypochondriac widower Fred moves to an apartment in Madrid, his temperamental daughter Cuca has an incident with his next door neighbor, the elder Argentinean Elsa. Later, they meet each other and Elsa seduces Fred with her reckless behavior and view of life, leading to a romance.
Director: Marcos Carnevale
Cast: Manuel Alexandre, China Zorrilla, Blanca Portillo, José Ángel Egido, Omar Muñoz
Country: Argentina, Spain
Language: Spanish, Italian, English
Runtime: 108 minutes
The great irony of all sweet romance stories is that there are never allowed to last. And what better premise to tap onto this bittersweet emotion than a romance stopped short and stripped away by old age? That’s not to say that Argentinian film Elsa & Fred is all gloom and doom though – far from it. With its potent mix of quirky comedy and tender moments, the film is a beautiful affirmation of love and life.
In Elsa & Fred, Fred (Manuel Alexandre), a quiet, henpecked elderly widower, moves into an apartment in Madrid. An incident between his daughter, Cuca (Blanca Portillo), and his new neighbour, the brash, equally elderly Elsa (China Zorrilla), forces both widow and widower closer together, eventually leading to a romance at the twilight of their lives.
Elsa and Fred are complete opposites. Elsa is the manic pixie dream grandmother – eccentric, spontaneous, and dreams of recreating the Trevi Fountain scene in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita despite her age. Fred, on the other hand, is by the books, depressed, and pretty much her introverted foil. It may all sound gimmicky and kitschy but remarkable performances by Alexandre and Zorrilla do translate their dynamic into a genuinely sweet fare.
Elsa & Fred revels in drawing the parallels between young, teenage romance and its own endearing tale of two elderly widowers finding their way back into love. Despite both pushing 80, they are just as awkward as teenagers, clumsily confessing their emotions for each other – complete with a few blushing faces here and there. They launch into conversations and short escapades with the vigour of those a fourth of their age. It is impossible not to smile and be caught up in their energy.
While both are spectacular in their roles, Alexandre stands out for me. Elsa & Fred is mostly a light-hearted affair but one particular sequence towards its end requires Alexandre to remind its audience of their age. With trembling lips and gut-wrenching expressions, he barely contains his pain, making for a disarmingly heartbreaking scene and a shining moment in the film that only made its ending that much sweeter.
The chemistry between Elsa and Fred would have been half as effective if not for the film’s solid cinematography. Director Marcos Carnevale elects for simple and straightforward shots that focus on the performances of its veteran actors. The one time it does stray from its formula comes when the film recreates that scene in La Dolce Vita. Even if both exist in completely different contexts, the recreation comes off as welcomingly endearing especially when it stars the cute elderly couple.
A minor nitpick I have of the film would be how, although Elsa is supposed to be the energetic and free-spirited heart of the duo, she also leans towards unlikeability from time to time, such as by being a compulsive liar and acting like a prima donna. This, however, is balanced out by the soft-hearted Fred, always willing to forgive and understand that there simply isn’t a lot of time left for the both of them to not enjoy each other’s company.
Reading the synopsis, I did not expect to love Elsa & Fred as much as I do after watching it. Premises surrounding the elderly will always hold an innate advantage in reaching into our sympathy given their frailty. Yet, the film does not take the easy route of turning it into a sob story; instead, it thoroughly charms with its strong performances, highlights the unyielding spirit of the old, and delights in showing that it will never be too late to find love.
Check out the trailer to this heartwarming film here:
About the Latin American Film Festival
The Latin American Film Festival (LAFF), is an exciting annual film festival organized by the Resident Embassies in Singapore of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru & Venezuela. This year’s edition will run from the 13 November to 24 November.
Elsa and Fred will be screened on 22 November. Find out more about the film festival and its slew of screenings on their Facebook page here.