Golden Years : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on February 21, 2024 in / No Comments


DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Music Box Films, Golden Years, Die goldenen JahreI absolutely adore Golden Years (original German title: Die goldenen Jahre) for always going into the unexpected. From the opening retirement scene being nothing more than a balloon release to having the characters wind up in completely different emotional and romantic spaces than you might predict, Golden Years lives in the discomfort of unpredictability. We also have to put up with a lot of selfish behavior, and that’s where the film might lose its way a bit, but that’s the whole point.

We’re not just talking about keeping communication lines open between a couple who’ve been married for nearly 40 years; we’re talking about trying to find common ground after such a long time. Of course, if Alice (Esther Gemsch) and Peter (Stefan Kurt) had merely opened up to each other and discussed their differences like rational people, this movie would be all of seven minutes long. It takes the hard lessons of finding out that the person you love may have undergone some changes since you married them to get to a more enlightened space, and it’s this journey that both Alice and Peter need to go on either separately or together. And wouldn’t you know it – Alice chooses “separately” in one fell swoop.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Music Box Films, Golden Years, Die goldenen JahreWhen their children send them on a cruise to celebrate Peter’s retirement, it suddenly exposes a chasm that’s been building between Alice and Peter for quite some time. Alice wants to travel and do things with the man she loves; Peter wants none of that, turning quickly health-oriented and vegan, not giving a second thought to what Alice wants. Truth be told, he’d rather ride his bike than be intimate with Alice. In addition to other newfound quirks, their close friend Magalie (Elvira Plüss) has passed on, leaving her husband Heinz (Ueli Jäggi) alone and rudderless. Out of care (but definitely without consulting Alice), Peter suggests that Heinz should go on the cruise with them, which only adds to the tensions wrought by Peter’s post-retirement behavior.

There’s another wrinkle to Magalie’s passing; as her heart attack takes her, she tells Alice to find a cache of letters in her bedside table, written by her French lover Claude from the last fifteen years. Spurred on by this secret, Alice decides to surreptitiously remain in France to tell Claude of Magalie’s death. Thus begins Alice’s reawakening and a search for purpose in her life, while Peter and Heinz scramble to ascertain where Alice might be after she doesn’t come back to the ship.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Music Box Films, Golden Years, Die goldenen JahreWe feel the pains of Alice’s discovery that her husband has other things in mind for their post-retirement life. Esther Gemsch alternates Alice between facing these challenges bravely only to bear a sadly shocked countenance when Peter lands another “surprise” on her, whether it’s the inclusion of Heinz in their activities, his newfound food preferences, or his decision to rearrange their home while she’s gone. Conversely, Stefan Kurt plays Peter like he’s found a new lease on life and is unwilling to squander it, but he also gives Peter a bewilderment when Alice doesn’t seem to want to go along with his plans. There’s comedy to be found in Kurt’s performance as a little bit of a bug-eyed control freak that contrasts Gemsch’s subdued, put-upon Alice, herself wending her way up to her own personal light.

What sets Golden Years apart from other typical “finding myself in a strange land” films is how utterly opposite the two lead characters are in context to each other. Alice has cared for Peter her whole life, putting his needs ahead of hers, but when they have the opportunity to spend more time with each other, it’s like she doesn’t matter at all to him. He’s seen as simply going full-speed ahead with his life and his wants and not giving her a second thought. When this “time-out” is called, Peter isn’t pining for her; in fact, he’s relieved, much in the way someone would feel as if unburdened by some kind of nuisance.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Music Box Films, Golden Years, Die goldenen JahreDirector Barbara Kulcsar and writer Petra Volpe make sure to ply us with visuals supporting Alice’s nascent feelings. We get Alice gazing dejectedly at the setting sun off the bow of their cruise ship, as if this is what she has to look forward to for the rest of her life. But after a night of carousing with divorcée Michi (Gundi Ellert) and waking up on the top deck, she’s witness to the sun rising, affirming her decision to renew her life and sense of wonder, which starts with finding Claude. Peter gets none of these visual metaphors; instead, he is our man of action, building his life the way he sees fit without someone nagging at him.

Golden Years isn’t some one-sided story of a jilted wife or a hardheaded man; they both have their issues to work out, even if those issues don’t bring them into harmony. They’re both evolving to the next state, regardless of their feelings for one another. You might be saying to yourself, “Just split and get it over with,” but it’s not that easy; there are still feelings, no matter how slim, and the ending may not be the big, romantic Hollywood lovefest you might want. But the evolution of these characters and their relationship makes us wonder if it’s possible to find our own version of happiness after a lifetime of being together. In that, Golden Years sparkles with the effervescence of uncertainty and unpredictability; it goes against our expectations and maintains its steady composure without needing hysterical drama.

Not Rated by the MPA (contains light profanity – equivalent to PG; drug use and themes of sexuality and alcoholism would probably push this into PG-13 territory). In Swiss German with English subtitles. Contains one mid-credits scene. Running time: 92 minutes. Released by Music Box Films.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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