Afilm about an elderly couple’s love affair doesn’t exactly break new ground, but director Helle Ryslinge adds a few fresh elements to the theme in “Carlo & Ester,” a generally touching romance that, with some trimming, could find a modest art-cinema niche.
Ryslinge (whose earlier work includes “Coeurs Flambes” and the Venice prize winner “Sirup”) doesn’t shrink from the sexual aspect of a love story between 80 -year-olds and includes a couple of chaste nude scenes that may be appealing, or troubling, according to taste. She and her fine actors handle these scenes with delicacy.
Carlo (Aksel Rasmussen), a healthy former bricklayer and motor-bike racing champ, lives in a retirement home with his sick wife, Viola, who’ssuffering from Alzheimer’s disease and can’t relate to the real world at all. At a funeral, he meets Ester (Gerda Gilboe), widow of a greengrocer, who lives alone in a small apartment.
Romance blossoms, to the horror of their respective children and friends, and eventually the two start spending nights together, with Ester fully accepting that Carlo spends as much time as possible with his wife.
Some of Ryslinge’s themes are fairly obvious (that the children of elderly people act like disapproving parents themselves in this kind of situation), and she could certainly reduce the running time since some scenes drag on after they’re finished.
But the fine cast, starting with topliners Gilboe and Rasmussen, is uniformly excellent, and the problems facing old people in the ’90s are vividly presented. Supporting characters, including Ruth Maisie as a nosy neighbor and Erni Arneson as Ester’s best friend, are beautifully scripted and played.
As with most Danish films, production values are excellent. Ryslinge herself appears as Carlo’s alcoholic daughter-in-law.