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China Zorrilla & Manuel Alexandre (Photo: Distrimax)

Directed by Marcos Carnevale
Written by Carnevale, Lily Ann Martin & Marcela Guerty
Produced by José Antonio Félez
Director of Photography, Juan Carlos
Edited by Nacho Ruiz Capillas
Music by Lito Vitale
Spanish with English subtitles
Argentina/Spain. 106 min. Rated PG
Released by Distrimax Inc./Mitropoulos Films
With China Zorrilla, Manuel Alexandre, Blanca Portillo, Robert Carnaghi, Omar Muñoz & Frederico Luppi

Elsa & Fred means to be a charming tribute to Argentinean director/co-writer Marcos Carnevale’s longtime obsession with the films of Federico Fellini, a passion that led to a correspondence with Fellini during the last years of his life. Instead, it reinforces the attitude that mainly the elderly remember Fellini’s black-and-white classics, let alone would see old movies. This slightly amusing, sentimental film will not encourage any change in that perception or behavior.

The opening credits flicker over the sculptures in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, drenched in water and violin music. The voluptuous Anita Ekberg appears, sauntering through the fountain in Federico Fellini’s 1960 classic La Dolce Vita. A sensual photo from that iconic scene hangs on the wall of 77-year-old (at least that’s what she claims) Argentinean Elsa (China Zorrilla), who is always on the move.

Her new neighbor is 78-year-old Alfredo (Manuel Alexandre), whose wife died five months earlier. His nagging daughter, Cuca (Blanca Portillo, who may be the fastest speaker of the Spanish language), and his adorable grandson encourage him to get out more, besides walking his dog. Meanwhile, his doctor and friend, Juan (Frederico Luppi), cautions him that his depression is leading to hypochondria.

After Elsa accidentally rams Cuca’s parked car, the two neighbors meet sorting out the damage, despite Elsa’s best attempts to lie her way out of it. For in another Fellini reference, she is as much a prevaricator as Fellini himself, who famously proclaimed “I am a born liar. For me, the things that are the most real are the ones I invented.”

Fabulist Elsa imitates—her lifelong dream is to follow Ekberg into that fountain. She reveals this to Alfredo as they embark on a whirlwind romance, where she’s supposed to be a madcap breath of fresh air reviving him as her own Marcello Mastroianni. She dubs him Fred, a reference to Fellini’s nostalgia-filled Ginger & Fredand there are probably more, minus the social bite, for those who stay awake through this slow-moving film that has only one surprise twist. And even that is just shrugged off.

Carnevale’s description, on the Elsa & Fred website, of the difficulties of filming at the fountain in crowded Rome on the eve of Pope John Paul II’s funeral is more interesting than the frame-by-frame tribute that resulted. While the theme of finding true love in old age is sweet, it’s a shame it takes a predictable—and un-Fellini-esque—turn. Nora Lee Mandel
June 27, 2008




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