A love story between octogenarians, “Coming of Age” avoids the mawkishness and condescending cuteness often brought to such stories, arriving at a clear-eyed result that’s touchingly real. This latest project from longtime Austrian creative duo Sabine Hieber and Gerhard Ertl won the audience award for best feature at the Montreal World fest, and figures to attract interest from further fests, as well as niche offshore distribs. Broadcast is likely to prove the pic’s primary destination, and its pro but nondescript visual presentation won’t lose anything in smallscreen translation.
After refusing further debilitating treatment for terminal cancer at the hospital, petite, elegant, reserved Rosa (Christine Ostermayer) decides to return home to spend her last six months or so in peace. Upon her arrival, however, she discovers someone else already in residence: A well-meaning niece has (rather implausibly) already sold the flat, having assumed Rosa wouldn’t be coming back. Rosa is helplessly weeping on the sidewalk when spied by passer-by Bruno (Karl Merkatz), who offers a sympathetic shoulder and gets her temporarily settled in a nearby hotel.
Most reluctantly, she lets her niece transfer her to a residential facility for the elderly, where her well-guarded privacy is under constant assault. Seeking some relative quiet in a cafe one day, she once again crosses paths with Bruno, who’s been thinking about her ever since their last encounter. The instant attraction is mutual, and soon indulged frequently in Rosa’s room, despite all the prying eyes of gossipy fellow residents — and the fact that Bruno has a wife, Herta, of more than 50 years to consider.
It doesn’t take long for Herta (Erni Mangold) to realize it’s not doctor’s appointments that’s keeping her husband out at all hours, or for their grown children to take even greater offense at his betrayal. By then, however, the illicit couple is in too deep to quit. When Rosa suffers a relapse that puts her back in the hospital, Bruno busts her out and sets the two of them up in a rented apartment, to the chagrin of his family and her medical overseers.
For a while, at least, they’re giddy as kids in love cohabiting for the first time. To the writer-helmers’ credit, however, the realities of Rosa’s condition (or of being an untrained, elderly sole caregiver) aren’t glossed over; nor is the pain Bruno’s defection causes the spouse and children he’s left behind. While Rosa and Bruno may be late-meeting soulmates, that element of wish fulfillment doesn’t simply erase the complications of 80-odd years of prior living (though admittedly the pic doesn’t delve very deeply into their pasts).
The pic’s bittersweet impact is fully supported by the astute perfs (Merkatz won an actor prize at Montreal), economical writing and straightforward packaging, which is short on style but escapes drabness.