Bruno Ganz and Senta Berger are wonderful together in “Colors in the Dark,” but they should have told novice helmer Sophie Heldman how people past a certain age actually think and behave. There’s nothing far-fetched about the idea of an older couple making hard decisions following a cancer diagnosis (Heldman based the story on people she knew), but the film’s appraisal of what life can offer at a not especially advanced age strains credibility, and there’s a hole where other relationships are meant to exist. Flaws notwithstanding, “Colors” is likely to find a core audience on Euro screens.

A charming opening sets the mood, with Anita (Berger) stirring from under a duvet and only then revealing Fred (Ganz) from behind the plump pillows. They’re a happy, successful couple living in a warm-toned, upmarket house. He’s just retired but goes off to the office anyway: Later, Anita sees him entering an unfamiliar building and, on investigating, discovers he’s just bought an empty apartment. He says it’s to have some private space now that he’s retired, but she’s convinced he’s got a mistress.

Son Patrick (Barnaby Metschurat) is staying with his folks just before sis Karoline (Carina Wiese) is about to marry for the second time, and the tension in the house following Anita’s discovery leads to the parents’ revelation that Fred has prostate cancer. Fred has decided against treatment, not wanting to end his days as a patient; he also fears erectile dysfunction.

When Anita tells Patrick, “We’re approaching an age when we’re nearing the end,” it’s hard for auds to buy such statements coming from the vivacious Berger. Equally unbelievable is Anita’s decision, following a nasty storm that requires her to run around the large garden saving some plants, to move into an arid retirement home, alone. Yes, she’s angry with Fred, and fearful of what life might be like without him, but too often the protags jump the gun to a ridiculous degree, as if they’re living in an advanced version of “Logan’s Run” where the cutoff age is now 70. Also problematic is the absence, apart from Patrick, of any real sense of familial warmth.

The faults are not with Ganz or Berger, who bring much more to the script than it gives them. It’s particularly frustrating, considering the poor roles usually offered actors (and especially actresses) past 60. Berger nails the deep-seated fear of long-time couples faced with the prospect of a half-life following the inevitable loss of a partner, but she also makes Anita an independent, strong-willed person. Ganz, too, projects an affection for his screen partner that’s tangible. A late scene in which the two pros let loose to a cover of “I’m So Excited” may make auds recall their own grandparents cutting a rug; there’s a joy and comfortability between these two that shines onscreen.

Lensing by Christine A. Maier (“Grbavica”) is largely personality-free, though slow fades between scenes have a distinctly smallscreen feel. A warm palette in the first half reveals Heldman’s affection for the couple’s house (in Dusseldorf), while colors turn colder with the waning of the days.

Colors in the Dark


  • Production: A Farbfilm Verleih (in Germany)/Look Now! (in Switzerland) release of a Unafilm, Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, WDR, Arte, SF SRG-SSR production. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Munich.) Produced by Titus Kreyenberg. Co-producer, Karin Koch. Directed by Sophie Heldman. Screenplay, Heldman, Felix zu Knyphausen.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Christine A. Maier; editor, Isabel Meier; music, Balz Bachmann; production designer, Martina Bruenner; costume designer, Manfred Schneider; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Braeker; casting, Simone Baer. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 18, 2010. Running time: 85 MIN.
  • With: With: Bruno Ganz, Senta Berger, Leonie Benesch, Barnaby Metschurat, Carina Wiese, Sybille Schedwill, Thomas Limpinsel, Traute Hoess, Ruth Gloess, Sylvana Krappatsch, Carlo Ljubek.
  • Music By: