Lovely Louise: Palm Springs Review
The Swiss comedy from director Bettina Oberli stars Stefan Kurt and Annemarie Duringer.
Norwegian comedies like Elling and Kitchen Stories tickled critics with their wry, whimsical humor. Lovely Louise, a favorite at this year’s Palm Springs Film Festival, is distinguished by the same offbeat sense of humor, though this movie happens to be Swiss. It’s a delicious character study of a sheltered, smothered man who finally finds the spirit to break free of his domineering mother. Although it doesn’t sport any box office names that would make it an easy sell in this country, it could turn into a modest hit on the specialty circuit.
Andre (Stefan Kurt) is a middle-aged taxi driver who lives with his mother Louise (Annemarie Duringer), who once had a brief career in Hollywood but claims she gave everything up to raise her young son. Now she expects him to return the favor and put his life on hold while he jumps to her commands. The opening scenes sketch their stultifying domestic routines with droll wit. But the status quo is upended when Louise, who still acts in local theater productions, finds an admirer waiting for her backstage with a bouquet of flowers. He claims to be another son of hers, the result of an affair she had with a German producer while living in Hollywood. She has not seen Bill (Stanley Townsend) since he was a young boy and she left America to return to Switzerland. Bill charms her, and soon he moves into their home and solicits money for a new enterprise he is planning. The extroverted Bill is the opposite of the timid Andre, but Andre does not like seeing his position usurped, and he begins to harbor suspicions about Bill’s motives as well as his true identity.
Although it isn’t hard to guess some of the plot twists, the details invented by director and co-writer Bettina Oberli are always clever and amusing. The cast of characters surrounding the three principals is sharply drawn. Andre is a model plane builder, and his fellow aviation nerds contribute to the ensemble. Andre also harbors a crush on Steffi (Nina Proll), who runs a sausage truck that all the men frequent. A romance seems to be budding, which is threatened by Andre’s dependence on his demanding mother.
As Andre tries to break free, he sends his mother on her annual vacation to Spain with Bill in tow. But an emergency requires him to journey there to rescue her. The change in scenery adds to the visual energy of the film. A scene with their car teetering on the edge of a cliff demonstrates Oberli’s cinematic flair, a gift that complements her skill at animating intimate scenes set in the family kitchen. All of the performances score. Duringer captures the vanity as well as the growing disorientation of a woman clinging to memories of her glory days, which turn out to be greatly exaggerated. Kurt achieves just the right mixture of shyness and growing assertiveness. In the end all the characters find the conclusion that is right for them, and the audience is thoroughly satisfied as well.
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Cast: Stefan Kurt, Annemarie Duringer, Stanley Townsend, Nina Proll, Michael Neuenschwander, Matthias Breitenbach.
Director: Bettina Oberli
Screenwriters: Bettina Oberli, Petra Volpe, Xao Seffcheque.
Producers: Christof Neracher, Christian Davi, Thomas Thumena.
Director of photography: Stephane Kuthy.
Production designer: Monica Rottmeyer.
Music: Adrian Weyermann.
Costume designer: Katrin Aschendorf.
Editor: Andrew Bird.
No rating, 91 minutes.