‘You’re as young as the man you feel,’ the line goes. Which makes Inge (Ursula Werner) an astonishingly virile 76-year-old. Snared in her post-retirement routine, toiling in a suffocating blanket of iron steam and sewing chores, Inge (actually in her late ’60s) has been married for 30 years, and her misery is tangible. Then she meets Karl (Horst Westphal), the 76-year-old in question, and the two recognise in each other a mirrored loneliness. You can almost hear Barry White humming from beyond the grave.
And before you’ve taken a breath there’s the sex. In Cloud 9’s frankly shocking pre-credit five minutes, Inge and Karl engage in a staggeringly graphic display of geriatric gymnastics. He strokes her cheek with liver-spotted hands, they kiss awkwardly, he gets between her naked thighs… If you’ve turned green already, chances are you won’t survive these opening moments.
But that would be doing Cloud 9 a disservice. Yes, the in-your-face, fleshy fornication is at first galling – almost hysterically so. Do we laugh at this? Is it comedy? Horror? But German director Andreas Dresen is from the Mike Leigh school of thought. Nudity itself is only fleetingly provocative, and with Cloud 9, Dresen is more interested in a probing – and, yes, explicit – exploration of lives that are meant to be winding down. Together, Inge and husband Werner (Horst Rehberg) have raised children and made a home – they have done everything that society expects – but have they truly lived?
Sound like a drag? Well, Dresen saves proceedings from the doldrums by exploring the fertile, complex age issues with fascination. Like Leigh, he is a director interested in people and their unique internal/external worlds. Filming in a loose, documentary style, his natural lighting hides none of the ravages of time, and long, unforgiving takes force us to inhabit the world of our elderly romantics absolutely. When Inge stands before a full length mirror, naked as the day she was born, tentatively searching her ageing folds, we’re right there with her – morbidly fascinated and repulsed, as she is.
This isn’t just softcore porn for the over 70s; Dresen is visibly peeling back the layers of society’s older patrons, exposing their hopes and fears through the heightened dramatics of a love story. As our technology-obsessed era closes in around them – wind turbines obscure their country jaunts, planes power overhead – just where do our arthritic trio belong?
Sadly, melodrama threatens to unbalance the second half of this carefully constructed opus when, inevitably, the romantic tryst is exposed. But if the only argument against the dramatic developments is that Ursula Werner’s hysterical sobbing is too real, too harrowing, you know you’re clutching at knitting needles. Quirky observations, jokes about old age (failed erections and female masturbation among them) and some neat visual tricks make Cloud 9 a surprisingly poignant experience. You’ll never look at your granddad the same way again.
Anticipation: German OAPorn? Gulp! 1
Enjoyment: By turns fascinating and repulsive, but always oddly moving. 3
In Retrospect: Daring stuff for those with the stomach. 3