Before he retreated to his gold-plated island with security guards dressed like Superman and a lifetime supply of cereal, Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that the idea of his parents having sex so utterly creeped him out, he was forced to delude himself into thinking maybe they were just really good friends.
Those who aren’t so afraid will want to check out Innocence, a new film from eclectic director Paul Cox (the animated van Gogh biography Vincent; the 3-D IMAX electron microscope spectacle The Hidden Dimension). With sex, longing and adultery, it’s about all the things we’d prefer to think that old people who aren’t congressmen don’t think about. In Cox’s skilled hands, the first hour of this love affair burns with wonderful truths about passion, physical desire and near-necrophilia—and instead of creeping us out, it entices us with the declaration that some feelings are so potent, they never die.
It’s the story of two sexagenarians (stop it) who discover they still have the capability to get their freak on in their golden years. Andreas (Charles Tingwell), a widower with cancer, learns that Claire (Julia Blake), a woman with whom he had a really hot thing about 40 years earlier, is living near him in Adelaide, Australia. He sends her a letter in barely suppressed hopes of once more getting the hookup—and when they meet, Claire becomes conflicted by long-forgotten feelings of passion, even though she’s been married for decades to another man (Terry Norris), and she has a heart condition.
Luckily, we don’t have to see anything too freaky; there’s nothing reaching the grossness quotient of Clint Eastwood’s saggy bare chest in True Crime. Instead, Cox dazzles us by expertly portraying the elemental feelings of love in two people who had given up on the idea entirely. Blake’s expressive face and deliberate style work wonders in capturing a woman who decides it’s never too late, while Tingwell is so dodderingly earnest in his pursuit that he could almost make you cry. Their meetings are charged with a mixture of eroticism and friendship that hasn’t been captured on film very often.
But Innocence is one of those well-meaning films with an interesting concept and not enough to do with it. The idea of a love story set among The Matlock Generation (Tom Brokaw used the wrong title for his book) is positively revolutionary nowadays. However, once we get away from the novelty of sexagenarian sex and the wonder of their first reunitings, Cox begins to preach his world views in an apparent attempt to explain much of the meaning of life to us in the context of an adulterous relationship. Parts of it work—there are teary speeches that are downright moving. Other parts don’t—particularly when the two backhandedly justify their feelings by essentially hanging Claire’s well-meaning husband out to dry.
Blake is the star here, expertly catching the conflicting emotions her character faces in this strange situation. Cox’s solution to her dilemma is the film’s least convincing aspect, but it’s entertaining to see Claire forced to wrestle with her first love all over again.
The film also features several flashback vignettes shot on 8-mm stock in which we see the young Andreas and Claire experiencing their first love in Antwerp. They’re mostly wonderful, with a demure image of Claire’s hands in Andreas’ coat pockets saying much about the closeness these two once felt and have felt again.
Innocence is the second remarkable love story of the year told from a predominantly female perspective. Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home was a gloriously restrained portrait of dogged passion, while this film is a testament to the enduring nature of desire. It’s a tremendous comfort to those of us younger than the main characters in Innocence to think that this particular fire still will burn for years within us, unchecked by spouses, illnesses and failing memory. If such a time comes, Innocence says, you’ll be proud to gross out your children.
Innocence (NR) HHH Directed by Paul Cox. Starring Julia Blake, Charles Tingwell and Terry Norris.