Old Dog Does Many Tricks (Sans Viagra!) in Geriatric Sex Flick

sarris love comes lately 1  Old Dog Does Many Tricks (Sans Viagra!) in Geriatric Sex FlickLove Comes Lately
Running time 86 minutes
Written and
Directed by Jan Schütte
Starring Otto Tausig, Rhea Pearlman, Barbara Hershey, Tovah Feldshuh

Jan Schütte’s Love Come Lately, from his own screenplay, is based on three Issac Bashevis Singer short stories: “The Briefcase,” “Alone,” and “Old Love.” Mr. Schütte has gone above and beyond the call of dutiful adaptation to translate Singer’s world into vibrantly geriatric longings for older women. As Singer notes in his preface to his collection, Old Love, “The love of the old and middle-aged is a theme that is recurring more and more in my works of fiction. Literature has neglected the old and their emotions. The novelists never told us that in love, as in other matters, the young are just beginners and that the art of loving matures with age and experience.”

Austrian actor Otto Tausig, now in his mid-80s, plays prolific author Max Kohn, who finds himself on an Amtrak train on which he is outrageously grilled by the conductor on the number of times he has had sexual intercourse in a week. It seems that if Max doesn’t answer, the conductor will throw him off the train. Max wakes up with a start from this nightmare of his impending impotence, awakening his long-suffering bed partner, Reisel (Rhea Pearlman), who has become increasingly infuriated by Max’s many infidelities.

Max is fashioned in the mold of many recent screen academics and authors who are well past their prime, but continue masochistically on lecture tours to ever emptier auditoriums and lecture halls. But the emphasis here is not on the pathos of his decline, but, rather, on his unending susceptibility to sexual adventures with new female acquaintances. After a typically poorly attended campus visit at which his hosts defensively remind him that he is not a big name like Kafka, Max is consoled by an accidental reunion with a former student named Rosalie, played by a still very scrumptious Barbara Hershey. When they find themselves together in her apartment, with the inevitable about to happen, Max guiltily calls Reisel to cover his tracks, but succeeds only in making her more angrily suspicious.

In a subsequent nightmare, Max is thrown out of a hotel that has suddenly declared bankruptcy, and is forced to move into an empty run-down motel, where he is aggressively pursued by crippled Cuban housekeeper Esperanza (Elizabeth Peña). When he resists her advances, thinking in the dream that he is married, Esperanza storms out in a rage, accusing him of rejecting her because of her infirmity.

The final episode is prompted by the loss of his briefcase with his speech inside, and his substitution of a short story he has written, based on Singer’s “Old Love.” Max, like Singer himself, is a retiree who has moved to Miami Beach. One day a woman knocks on his door and introduces herself as his next-door neighbor, Ethel (Tovah Feldshuh), a recent widow who has enjoyed nothing but happiness with a kind and loving husband, and now feels that he is asking her to join him in the afterlife.

Max gallantly asks her to sit down with him for coffee while they discuss the ways they can spend the rest of their lives. They agree to meet again, but when the time comes, they are separated forever by a message she leaves behind before joining her husband in the great beyond, where they will put in a kind word for poor bereft Max, who is left alone once more on the far side of life.

There have been several other films over the years based on Singer’s works, but none with such relevance as Love Comes Lately to Singer’s own description of his subjects: “I deal with unique characters in unique circumstances …a group of people who are still a riddle in the world and often to themselves—the Jews of Eastern Europe, specifically the Yiddish-speaking Jews who perished in Poland and those who emigrated to the USA. The longer I live with them and write about them, the more I am baffled about the richness of their individuality (since I am one of them) by my own whims and passions. While I hope and pray for the redemption and resurrection, I dare to say that for me, these people are living right now, in literature, as in our dreams, death does not exist.”

Otto Tausig deserves some kind of special award for incarnating the ageless defiance of the death-dealing Nazi Holocaust, which Singer never addressed directly in his writings, but sought to nullify with characters like Mr. Tausig’s indomitable Max Kohn.

asarris@observer.com