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Elsa & Fred (Elsa y Fred)

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Two elderly Madrid neighbors fall for each other in the gentle and restrained Spanish-Argentine love story "Elsa & Fred" ("Elsa y Fred") (Distrimax/Mitropoulos).

While Alfredo's (Manuel Alexandre) controlling daughter, Cuca (Blanca Portillo), is supervising her recently widowed father's move into a new apartment, absent-minded Elsa (China Zorrilla), who lives on Fred's floor, backs into Cuca's parked car, taking out both headlights. When she later appears at Alfredo's door with a check for the damages, fib-prone Elsa also hands him a fanciful tale about her straitened circumstances.

Charmed by his generous response, Elsa, who has been on her own for years, invites him over for coffee. As they chat, she reveals her characteristic lifelong ambition to imitate actress Anita Ekberg's Trevi Fountain dip in Federico Fellini's classic 1960 film, "La Dolce Vita."

Buttoned-up hypochondriac Fred, as Elsa calls him, finds his horizons widened by his adventurous new companion. One night, for instance, she spontaneously decides that they should dine in an expensive restaurant, then even more impetuously skips out on the whopping bill, with the flustered Fred in tow.

(Elsa, sort of a con artist, has the unnerving habit of avoiding debts she considers excessive.)

Rewarding as their relationship is portrayed to be, a revelation late in the film -- not to be spoiled here, and never completely spelled out -- tends from a Catholic standpoint to undermine its moral foundation. On the plus side, Elsa and Fred's intimacy seems not to be sexual. When Elsa spends the night at Fred's apartment, she makes it clear they will be sleeping together only in the most literal sense.

Though its central dynamic of a repressed character opened up by a free spirit is familiar, director and co-writer (with Lily Ann Martin and Marcela Guerty) Marcos Carnevale's "carpe diem" comedy is kept rolling by the verve of its veteran leads. Zorrilla is particularly effective as the elegant and flighty Elsa, endearing despite her moral flaws, who struggles to overcome her own fears as well as those of her timorous beau.

In Spanish. Subtitles.

The film contains a morally ambiguous relationship. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

- - -

Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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