Argentine writer-director Daniel Burman (Lost Embrace) has said his film Empty Nest is about “accepting one’s own decline.” That statement alone should clue you in that this is heady stuff. Character-driven and philosophical to a fault, Burman’s film is, as its title implies, about a couple who must confront their problems after their children leave home.
Leonardo (Oscar Martinez) and Martha (Cecelia Roth) are sophisticated types. He’s a writer, and she’s a housewife who fancies herself an intellectual. While they’re both quite smart, trouble starts when the last of their three kids leaves home to live on her own. Then the fighting begins. “I’ve wanted to shout for years,” exclaims Martha to Leonardo, who wouldn’t go to the airport to see his daughter off. “I said my goodbye at home,” he huffs in response.
With their kids gone, Leonardo and Martha head down divergent paths. Martha becomes more social, inviting friends over for study sessions and parties. Leonardo prefers to go to the park and fly a model airplane. They start attending group therapy, but that doesn’t help. Leonardo suspects Martha is cheating on him, so he begins having an affair with a young oral surgeon. Things even out a little by the film’s end, but their differences aren’t completely resolved even though the couple are able to negotiate some common ground.
While Burman’s tone isn’t nearly as self-deprecating as Woody Allen’s, Empty Nest isn’t all seriousness either. Martinez plays Leonardo as both curmudgeon and buffoon, living in a world that’s part fantasy. And Roth is terrific as the whimsical Martha, who hides her intelligence so well, you think she really could be a bimbo. Just seeing these two work side-by-side makes this sometimes wordy movie worthwhile.