Late Bloomers

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

Catpics Coproductions

PALM SPRINGS -- Switzerland's official foreign-language Oscar submission, which also is that country's biggest homegrown hit of the past three decades, is a certified crowd-tickler.

"Late Bloomers" is a genial social satire set in a sleepy Emmental village where a recently widowed octogenarian scandalizes her conservative neighbors by opening a sexy French lingerie shop.

While it could be viewed as a Swiss "Calendar Girls" with a sprinkle of "Chocolat," it's definitely a gentler model, with any real edginess provided by the zesty performance of the film's 87-year-old lead, veteran television actress Stephanie Glaser.

Still, it offers female actors of a certain age (and then some) a real chance to strut their stuff, and given the response from mature Palm Springs International Film Festival audiences, this little film that could -- it was released on home turf by Buena Vista International -- packs the kind of universal appeal that could translate nicely in the hands of the right American distributor.

Having fallen into a depression after the death of her husband, Martha (Glaser) is shown at the outset of the film lying in her bed decked out in Swiss ceremonial garb, ready to join him.

But when she awakens the next morning alive and well, it's clear that there's some unfinished business on Martha's bucket list.

Prodded by three of her friends, including an energetic hairdresser (Heidi Maria Glossner) who had followed her dreams to America, the former seamstress admits a secret fantasy of opening a lingerie boutique.

Quicker than you can say "Frederick's of Trub," the deed is done, much to the outrage of many of her fellow villagers, especially her self-righteous vicar son (Hanspeter Muller-Drossaart).

Director Bettina Oberli, who penned the sprightly script with Sabine Pochhammer, allows the prevailing hypocrisies to reveal themselves without resorting to strained situations or overblown characters.

There's no need to force the issue when you've got an old pro like Glaser to take it the distance, turning in a masterfully rendered performance in which a sly twinkle in her eye and a mischievous upturn of the corner of her mouth do most of the heavy lifting to inspired -- and inspiring -- effect.

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