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Later, My Love

The romance in Innocence is done in not by age but by platitudes.

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Filmmakers don't get any more sensitive than Paul Cox. When it comes to jerking a tear or tugging a heartstring, this Dutch-born, Australian-raised veteran is a master. Just ask anyone who saw My First Wife (1984), in which a workaholic disc jockey falls to pieces when his neglected wife has an affair, or Cactus (1986), in which a young woman who is going blind falls in love with an already sightless cactus farmer. Forget popcorn; when a Paul Cox movie is playing at the multiplex, you want the hanky line.

Though it doesn't measure up to Cox's best work, the septuagenarian love story Innocence will likely please his loyalists. All the Coxian trademarks are on display here -- careful observation of human relationships, stately acting, decorum. He is a resolutely old-fashioned storyteller -- stodgy, some would say -- and this romantic drama about Andreas, an aging widowed musician, and Claire, a long-suffering housewife in Adelaide, who rekindle a love affair that was interrupted a half century earlier is paced like an afternoon tea at the club.

Cox is to be admired for his faith that people ages sixty and up are still willing to go to the movies. But the assumption, everywhere evident here, that Innocence is breaking some sort of movie taboo about geriatric sex is patently false. Cox fans may rejoice when his attractively "mature" Aussie actors, Julia Blake and Charles Tingwell, jump into the sack together, but he is being anything but daring.

The writer-director also doesn't trust his audience to follow along. Lest we misunderstand how they feel now, he inserts a dozen misty, silent flashbacks showing us Claire and Andreas as randy teenagers (Kristien Van Pellicom and Kenny Aernouts). And Cox once more indulges his unfortunate penchant for explaining the meaning of life. "Too much love is as bad as no love at all," Claire tells us. "Love becomes more real the closer it comes to death," Andreas counters. "To love is to be aware of eternity," Claire says. "Goodness never dies and love -- real love -- never dies," Andreas assures us.

So we are left to contemplate the damage Claire and Andreas do to others with their senior version of adultery. Like the cuckolding spouse in Cox's earlier My First Wife, Claire has long been taken for granted by her complacent bore of a husband (Terry Norris, who is actress Blake's offscreen husband). Like the eightysomething heroine of Cox's best film, A Woman's Tale (1991), she doesn't care about social conventions. "The only way to be happy is to love -- to love everybody, to love the world," she says.

Of course, no story about -- what's that word again? Love? -- in the autumn of life would be complete without the grim reaper looking in. Inevitably, both Andreas and Claire are afflicted with serious diseases. The only question is which one of them will get to the barn first.

Paul Cox's admirers are sure to embrace this latest eruption of sincerity and sensitivity. In the movies' ongoing love-gives-life-meaning sweepstakes, there is no stronger contender this year than Innocence, and in the good-taste-can-overcome-vulgarity contest it is a sure winner. But the rest of us may find ourselves retiring to the lavatory to wash away the post-Coxian emotional goop.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward reportedly took a long look at this script before Cox decided to avoid big stars and "go intimate" with his Aussie locals. Given the Newmans' dramatic standards and their customary aversion to sentimentality, what kind of groundbreaking film might this have been had they inhabited it? It's an intriguing idea, isn't it?

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