Cloud 9


Music Box, Aug 28, 2009

The new German melodrama,“Cloud 9” offers a bold look into the sexuality of elderly characters. Within minutes of its opening, we are presented with sex scenes featuring soft lighting and tight close-ups on the bodies of people in their sixties and seventies.


Andreas Dresen's “Cloud 9” world-premiered to great acclaim at last year's Cannes Film Fest (in the Certain Regard series), and now, a year later, Music Box is releasing it theatrically in select metropolitan centers.

The film's goal is clear from the outset. By offering an explicit look at a facet of sexuality usually left unexplored in American movies, the filmmakers intend to force us into recognition. The point that sex happens between people other than the perfect, surgically (and digitally) enhanced bodies we've become so accustomed to seeing is well taken. 


At the center of the love triangle in “Cloud 9” is Inge (Ursula Werner), a 67-year-old woman whose quiet life at home with her husband Werner (Horst Rehberg) is punctuated by clandestine visits to Karl (Horst Westphal), who's 76.  For Inge, sex with her husband has become routine and mechanical, whereas with Karl it is impassioned and exciting but also induces guilt.  Betraying her own stated philosophy of getting the most out of what's left of life, Inge tries to end her affair with Karl, but finds herself accepting his invitations just as before.


The turning point occurs when Inge decides to disclose to Werner her indiscretions, seemingly unaware of how hard they will fall upon her longtime husband of 30 years. With no words to explain her actions, and finding none of the solace she expected from her confession, Inge decides to move in with her lover. But she continues to be dissatisfied, and still is drawn to her husband, who has gone to become an object of sympathy and pity.


“Cloud 9” succeeds in its unrelenting frankness in dealing with an almost taboo subject in American society.  The sex scenes never shy from giving the whole picture. The acting is sincere and a deliberate pace gives credit to each emotional beat.  But the plot contains it share of clichés and the lack of satisfying resolution is problematic, too.


The images in “Cloud 9” will affect viewers in different ways. They are shocking, even for a European art film, but they are never obscene or offensive; in fact, they are often quite beautiful. The exhausted body of a seventy-year old man functions as a perfect memento mori, a reminder that even the most beautiful among us will end up looking like him if blessed with long enough life.


There have been other films, mostly foreign works, that described the sexuality of older character, as part of a larger theme. Fassbinder's masterful “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” brought to life the vitality of an older character by placing her in a loving relationship with a much younger man. Going a little further, in “Saraband” Bergman follows up on the romance he created thirty years earlier in “Scenes from a Marriage”, holding nothing back in presenting the sexual longing of eighty-year old Erland Josephson.


However, unlike those films, “Cloud 9” lacks the larger context of its characters. Inge, Werner, and Karl live in an isolated world where their own emotions. Inge's daughter makes the occasional appearance to drop off the grandkids, but for some reason she never articulates a younger person's response to the situation.  Even so, the film should be commended for disturbing our expectations about old-age sexuality, and for encouraging us to reevaluate the ways we think about–and consume images of–sex.




Inge – Ursula Werner

Werner – Horst Rehberg

Karl – Horst Westphal

Petra – Steffi Kühnert




Peter Rommel Productions, Senator International, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, in association with ARTE

Distributed by Music Box Films

Directed by Andreas Dresen

Written by Andreas Dresen, Jörg Hauschild, Laila Stieler, Cooky Ziesche

Producers, Dagmar Mielke, Peter Rommel, Andreas Schreitmüller            , Rosemarie Wintgen

Cinematographer, Michael Hammon          

Editor, Jörg Hauschild

Production Designer, Susanne Hopf


Michael T. Dennis contributed to this review.