×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

Australian director Rolf de Heer's fondness for making films about isolated characters on the fringes of society gets an elegiac work-out in "The Old Man Who Read Love Stories," a gentle and immensely likable adaptation of the novel by Luis Sepulveda.

With:
Antonio Bolivar - Richard Dreyfuss Luis Agalla (Mayor) - Timothy Spall Rubicondo (Dentist) - Hugo Weaving Josefina - Cathy Tyson Nushino - Victor Bottenbley Juan - Frederico Celada Manuel - Luis Hostalot Onecen - Guillermo Toledo

Australian director Rolf de Heer’s fondness for making films about isolated characters on the fringes of society, already amply demonstrated in “Bad Boy Bubby,” “Epsilon,” “The Quiet Room” and “Dance Me to My Song,” gets an elegiac work-out in “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories,” a gentle and immensely likable adaptation of the novel by Luis Sepulveda. Filmed entirely on jungle locations in French Guiana, and centered on an engagingly mellow and subtle performance by Richard Dreyfuss, this French-Aussie co-production presents a hefty marketing challenge but could post solid rewards in niche venues before a decent ancillary life where, unfortunately, its spacious visuals will be severely circumscribed.

Set in a small community threatened by a man-hunting jaguar, pic is reminiscent of “The Ghost and the Darkness,” which was also made by an Aussie director, Stephen Hopkins. But, although de Heer builds an atmosphere of suspense, he deliberately avoids the vicarious thrills that were featured in Hopkins’ lion film. Instead, he presents a character study of a simple man who finds his pleasures in the small things of life.

In a stilted opening sequence, an unseen female narrator introduces Antonio Bolivar (Dreyfuss), a 60-ish man who lives in El Idilio, a village located beside a tributary of the Amazon. Bolivar, we are told, came here when he was a young man to help colonize the jungle. After this awkward start, de Heer hits his stride with a sequence in which Bolivar painstakingly reads the last sentence of what seems to be a trashy romantic paperback.

Flashbacks reveal the man’s story. His young wife died of a fever many years ago. After nearly expiring from a snakebite himself, he lived with an Indian tribe and befriended its leader, Nushino (Victor Bottenbley); but when white men attacked the Indians, Bolivar was expelled from the tribe.

He settled in El Idilio and became a recluse, virtually his only close friend being Rubicondo (Hugo Weaving), an itinerant dentist. The old man becomes interested in reading when he’s required to take part in a local election by voting for Luis Agalla (Timothy Spall), the blustering mayor of the village. Thereafter, the dentist keeps Bolivar supplied with romantic books loaned to him by Josefina (Cathy Tyson), the mayor’s servant and the dentist’s mistress.

The corpse of a hunter that has been badly mauled by a jaguar is discovered, and a search of the dead man’s belongings reveals that, after being given an illegal hunting license by the mayor, he killed and skinned a clutch of jaguar cubs. After Bolivar warns that the bereaved mother is likely to attack any human who crosses her path, the old man agrees to join in a hunt for the animal.

Although filmgoers seeking overt action may be disappointed, the right audience will appreciate this gentle and quite beautiful saga of courage and integrity. Above all, pic is a strong showcase for Dreyfuss, who displays innate charm, serenity and quiet authority. Weaving is excellent as the cheerful dentist. Tyson radiates warmth and sexuality as Josefina, while Bottenbley effectively portrays the leader of the Indian tribe. Spall broadly conveys the character of the venal mayor.

Location shooting in French Guiana provides an authentic backdrop for this Amazon saga, and the scenes involving the jaguar are beautiful and gripping. Technical credits are all solid, with Denis Lenoir’s widescreen camerawork a particular source of enjoyment.

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

France-Australia-Spain-Netherlands

Production: A Fildebroc (Paris)/Magnetic Hall (Adelaide)/Kino Vision (Madrid)/Odusseia Films (Amsterdam) co-production. (International sales: Pandora, L.A.) Produced by Michelle de Broca, Julie Ryan. Co-producers, Inaki Nunez, Eddy Wijngaarde. Executive producer, Ernst Goldschmidt. Directed, written by Rolf de Heer, based on the novel by Luis Sepulveda.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Denis Lenoir; editor, Tania Nehme; music, Graham Tardif; production designers, Gil Parrondo, Pierre Voisin; costume designers, Bernadette Corstens, Ellen Lens; sound (Dolby Digital), James Currie; visual effects supervisor, Tony Clark; line producer, Caroline Hewitt; associate producer, Anthony Francis; assistant director, Eric Bartonio; casting, Karen Lindsay-Stewart. Reviewed at Melbourne Film Festival, July 28, 2001. (Also in Brisbane Film Festival.) Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Antonio Bolivar - Richard Dreyfuss Luis Agalla (Mayor) - Timothy Spall Rubicondo (Dentist) - Hugo Weaving Josefina - Cathy Tyson Nushino - Victor Bottenbley Juan - Frederico Celada Manuel - Luis Hostalot Onecen - Guillermo Toledo

More Film

  • Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali, right)

    Read Variety's 1957 Review of 'Green Book' Pianist Don Shirley

    “Green Book” viewers who are not totally versed in the ways of ’50s and ’60s jazz may come away from the heavily Oscar-nominated movie wondering just how well known and respected the film’s central musical figure, Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali), really was in his heyday. The answer: revered enough to have picked up [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Steven Spielberg Remembers 'Friend and Early Mentor' Stanley Donen

    As news of the death of prolific director Stanley Donen spread Saturday, the industry was quick to remember the helmer of so many classic musicals. Donen directed such hits as “Singin’ in the Rain,” co-directed with and starring Gene Kelly; “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn; and “Charade,” with Hepburn and Cary Grant. More Reviews Film [...]

  • Aubrey Plaza Spirit Awards

    How to Watch the 2019 Spirit Awards Online

    The Spirit Awards are taking over television Saturday from Santa Monica, Calif., but viewers don’t need a TV to tune in. Hosted by “Parks and Recreation” star Aubrey Plaza, this year’s Spirit Awards are set to air on IFC at 2 p.m. PT and again on Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. ET. However, indie lovers [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Oscars, After Repeated Tumbles, Take Center Stage in Hollywood

    At least the weather will be sunny for Sunday afternoon’s Oscars ceremony following one of the stormiest —  and strangest — awards seasons in memory. Expectations have been turned upside down in key categories amid a historic lack of consensus among guild and critics groups. The 91st Academy Awards will be the first in three [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Speeding to Series-Best Debut With $58 Million

    Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is far and away the box office champ for Academy Awards weekend with an estimated debut of $58 million from 4,259 North American locations. Three holdovers and an expansion will make up the other top four spots, with the sophomore frame of sci-fier “Alita: Battle Angel” [...]

  • Stanley Donen

    Stanley Donen, Director of Iconic Movie Musicals, Dies at 94

    Stanley Donen, the director of such stylish and exuberant films as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face” and “Two for the Road” and the last surviving helmer of note from Hollywood’s golden age, has died at 94. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips tweeted that one of his sons had confirmed the news to him. More [...]

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content