Life’s a detour. Enjoy the mushrooms

OLD age is not for sissies. In the centre, Alice (Esther Gemsch) discovers that life begins at 65 in Golden Years at the European Film Festival South Africa, this week.

WHEN ALL THE silly bureaucracy, political correctness, humdrum and basic monotony of being in a job has ended, what happens next? Do you quietly lie down and wait for the end? Or do you let your hair down and party like there’s no tomorrow? Barbara Kulcsar’s film Golden Years is a witty and crispy essay on the vagaries of ageing and retirement and you can see it on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.

A tale of letting go of glossy balloons, realising your own mortality and also understanding that there’s more to everything than what you believed, Golden Years resembles the brilliant 2018 Paolo Virzi film, The Leisure Seeker, in its tragi-comic sequences and pithy truths. Alice (Esther Gemsch) and Peter (Stefan Kurt) have been married to each other for 42 years. Their adult children have messy lives filled with too much alcohol and truck loads of meaningless casual sex. But they’re needy, nevertheless, and have their eyes on the inheritance, and their grubby paws expectantly on the house where Alice and Peter have lived all these years.

It is then, after Peter’s retirement party that the couple realise their children are frankly not their problem any longer. They have a cruise to enjoy, to celebrate freedom from hassles at last. But do they? At that moment, the universe steps in and ruffles all their feathers, with loss, secrets and mysteries that open Alice’s head and heart to the idea that life itself must have more to offer than all of this. And it does. Much more than she could have dreamed of. So much more, in fact, that the very fabric of their marriage undergoes dramatic shifts.

With a nod to Shirley Valentine and a finger to all things ordinary and anticipated, Alice goes on several adventures of her own, ones that plumb the secrets of her own life and that of her best friend, Magali (Elvira Plüss). It’s a time for revelations and tasting new wines, of buying a frock at the market and wearing it immediately, because life’s too short to wait.

And Peter? Well, at 65, after nearly four decades pushing pens in an office and being coddled and buffed because he’s a conventional husband with a stay-at-home wife, he is at little at sea. His friend Heinz (Ueli Jäggi) grounds him in important ways and he slips into ruts of comfort wherever they present themselves.

Will Peter and Alice return to their happily ever after sanctuary where they’ve frankly forgotten how to talk to each other? Will they run off in opposite directions, dreaming dreams that are dangerously off the grid and avoiding meat and wine? The yarn reaches a comfortable compromise that feels safe rather than thumpingly wild, but the film remains a delicious little tonic about expectations and realities, and it will leave you smiling all the way home.

  • Golden Years is directed by Barbara Kulcsar and features a cast headed by Isabelle Barth, Gundi Ellert, Davide Gagliardi, Esther Gemsch, Ueli Jäggi, André Jung, Stefan Kurt, Elvira Plüss and Martin Vischer. Written by Petra Biondina Volpe, it is produced by Lukas Hobi and Reto Schärli and features creative input by Carsten Meyer (music), Tobias Dengler (cinematography), Wolfgang Weigl (editing), Corinna Glaus and Nora Leibundgut (casting) and Linda Harper (costumes). In Swiss German with ejaculations of English and English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online until 22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October 2023.

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