Swiss pic targets an older crowd


ZURICH, Switzerland -- Here's the pitch: a quirky comedy about octogenarians who set up their own lingerie business. Target audience: the 50-plus demographic.

What sounds like a recipe for boxoffice disaster is the idea behind the most successful Swiss film in a generation.

Bettina Oberli's "Late Bloomers," Switzerland's official entry for the foreign-language Oscar, has turned traditional boxoffice wisdom on its head.

Since opening early this year, the film has sold about 610,000 tickets -- a massive figure in a country with a population of just 7.5 million and the best result for a Swiss film in 25 years.

The film's recent free-TV premiere broke all records, grabbing an unheard of 58% market share.

"Late Bloomers" has managed this by targeting that most neglected of cinemagoers -- the elderly.

"When the film opened, it was the older generation who came out first to see it," says Katrin Muff of "Late Bloomers" producers Catpics. "My grandmother saw the film. She's 95. I don't know when the last time was she went to a movie. It was the 50-plus audience, a huge part of the (Swiss) population, which wanted to see this movie. I think we showed that it is possible to mobilize this segment of the population to go to the movies."

It was only after "Late Bloomers" became a massive hit that the younger generation decided to check it out -- an exact reversal of a traditional release.

The film stars a Swiss acting institution -- 87-year-old Stephanie Glasner. She plays Martha, a plucky retiree who stirs up things in her conservative Alpine village when she decides to fulfill a lifelong dream and open a shop selling homemade lingerie.

For director Oberli, "Late Bloomers" is a tribute to her grandmother and the generation of Swiss women "who dedicated their life to their husbands and followed strict social rules. ... The film focuses on what might happen if these old feisty women dare to follow their hearts, doing what pleases them and breaking social conventions."

Oberli's film has set off a mini grey revolution in tiny, traditional Switzerland. The film's German title -- "Die Herbstzeitlosen" -- named after an alpine flower that first blooms in late autumn -- has become a catch phrase.

"You have all these women now, starting from around 60 years old, who go around saying 'I'm a Herbstzeitlose,' " Muff says. "It's their way of saying, 'I might be old but I've still got it.' "

After winning over Switzerland's granny generation, the producers of "Late Bloomers" are now hoping the film's grey power will appeal to another audience of aging film lovers: Academy voters.