The spirit of Ingmar Bergman unavoidably looms over Suzanne Osten’s “Wellkamm to Verona,” which not only stars a trio of well-known Bergman actors but also was shot on Gotland, an island just south of the veteran helmer’s retreat, Faro. That aside, pic is a surprisingly funny and at times melancholy story about an odd retirement home for the elderly. Domestic box office looks to be fair for what is basically a specialist item; abroad, its future lies in fests and select arthouses.
Walter (Jan Malmsjo, who played the bishop in “Fanny & Alexander”) is picked up by police trying to get into Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theater (another nod to Bergman). The confused old man, who was once a successful legit director, is driven to a retirement home, Verona, out in the country. Among the manse’s young staff are Lennart (Simon Norrthon) and Asa (Victoria Olmarker), who has theatrical ambitions.
Another newcomer to the home is stage diva Virginia (Danish vet Ghita Norby, one of the leads in Bergman-scripted “The Best Intentions”). Walter immediately falls in love with her, but his unsubtle passes are shunned. Then, Asa has a suggestion: If Walter stages a performance of “Romeo & Juliet” at the retirement home, and Virginia can be persuaded to play Juliet, Walter will have a better chance of making her receptive to his charm.
Helmer Osten’s career has had its ups and downs, with “The Mozart Brothers” and “The Guardian Angel” among the more successful. “Wellkamm to Verona” is her best movie since the early ’90s, with its feeling of improvisation and joy in the process of filmmaking, though it’s unpredictability makes it occasionally confusing.
Pic belongs to the actors. It’s a real joy to see Malmsjo, Norby and Josephson play characters at least their own age (or even slightly older). And it’s an equal joy to watch a film about septuagenarians falling in love and wanting to have sex.
In real life, Josephson suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease, and the viewer can’t help wondering whether he’s acting. Tech credits are fine. Curious English title includes the word “welcome” phonetically reproduced in Swedish spelling.