Colors in the Dark -- Film Review

Death and aging in Swiss-German suburbia.

SAN SEBASTIAN -- Love, death and aging are morally ticklish subjects in "Colors in the Dark," a German-Swiss co-production about a married couple who contemplate extreme choices when terminal illness looms.

Though based on a true story, this first feature film by 37-year-old German director Sophie Heldman lacks the dramatic conviction to make its final scenes work. In the central roles, Senta Berger and Bruno Ganz lighten the load and offer a pair of fine performances that keep the film watchable, however improbable the script. The film feels headed for mostly local business.

Anita (Berger) and Fred (Ganz) are a good-looking, well-to-do couple who have been married 50 years, ergo they must be in their early 70s, though they look younger. Although retired, Fred still goes to the office, while Anita runs their sprawling house and garden in the suburbs. But all is not well.

Anita is highly controlling and in denial about her husband’s prostate cancer. He takes it more seriously. It comes as a huge shock to her when she learns he has bought an apartment in town where he can be alone and "think." She's so offended that he's dared to do something without consulting her, she ups and moves to a retirement home. It takes all the skill of the two consummate professionals to pull off the improbable narrative, and Berger is particularly impressive in the subtle moment-by-moment changes she works on Anita. Still, the audience is asked for too much suspended disbelief, and the ending just doesn’t ring true.

Ganz is an iconic actor with automatic appeal in whatever role he plays. His Fred hides his troubles from his family behind a sad, enigmatic smile. His last fling with his secretary has a funereal quality. When he admits other past infidelities to his teenage granddaughter, he says they don’t count; Anita is the only woman he’s ever loved. Apparently, she feels the same way; that’s why she moved to a retirement home. It’s complicated -- and hard to care about these characters.

Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (in competition)
Production company: Unafilm, Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion
Cast: Senta Berger, Bruno Ganz, Carina Wiese, Barnaby Metschurat, Leonie Benesch, Thomas Limpinsel
Director: Sophie Heldman
Screenwriters:  Sophie Heldman, Felix zu Knyphausen
Producer: Titus Kreyenberg
Director of photography: Christine A. Maier
Production designer: Martina Brunner
Music: Balz Bachmann
Costumes: Manfred Schneider
Editor: Isabel Meier
Sales agent: Beta Cinema
Unrated, 84 minutes