A curious but not unappealing blend of Eastern European magical realism and a lovable-old-coot Lifetime movie, Love Comes Lately could only have come from the pen of Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer. Based on three of Singer's short stories (The Briefcase, Alone and Old Love), Lately is framed as a contemporary Yiddish folk tale. The old-world flavor and literary sensibility come as much from Singer as from German writer-director Jan SchŸtte, who's making his English-language debut here. (None of SchŸtte's previous work has been released in America.)
SchŸtte's film makes an interesting companion piece to last year's art-house hit Starting Out in the Evening, in which Frank Langella played another Jewish literary lion enduring the indignities of senescence. But unlike Langella's Leonard Schiller, Otto Tausig's Max Kohn doesn't appear to have a problem with writer's block or finding a date. Austrian émigré Max keeps busy writing short stories on his trusty old typewriter and fending off - and occasionally succumbing - to the advances of a series of predatory women. All this despite being involved in a 12-year relationship with the long-suffering Reisel (Rhea Perlman).
The movie's jumping-off point is a trip Max takes to deliver a lecture ("Faith and Free Will in Modern Literature") at a New Hampshire college. En route, Max falls asleep on the train and dreams he's the lead character in his latest story. Widowed Miami tourist Simon (Tausig again) has a series of bizarrely elliptical adventures, many of which involve the opposite sex. Once Max arrives on campus, he's immediately seduced by modern Hebrew literature professor - and former student - Rosalie Kaddish (Barbara Hershey, still beautiful after all these years). "There are no happy endings in the real world, are there?" responds Max when someone asks why the endings of his stories are so depressing. SchŸtte wisely ignores his protagonist's dyspeptic worldview, delivering a bittersweet capper as delicately absurd as it is lovely.
Love Comes Lately, Cleveland Museum of Art, At 7 p.m. Friday, December 19, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, December 21
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