banner image

:: The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is Rolf De Heer’s adaptation of the Luis Sepulveda book, and he succeeds in making you want to read the novel, but the film itself is not such a success.

The Old Man, Antonio Bolivar, is played endearingly by Richard Dreyfuss. He lives in the jungle of South America and is slowly romancing the local prostitute Josefina, played by Cathy Tyson, via their mutual love of romance novels. When a jaguar whose cubs have been killed goes on a rampage attacking the locals, Antonio must go on a hunt with the mayor, Timothy Spall, the dentist, Hugo Weaving, and several others to kill the beast before it kills them. On the way, the themes of progress, leadership and courage are explored, but not much new is said about any of them.

The film doesn’t seem to quite know what it is. It is too slow and sedate to be an adventure, too farcical to be a drama and too serious to be a comedy. This confusion is not helped by the vastly different performance styles, the hammy over the top mugging of Hugo Weaving and Timothy Spall and the restrained respectability of Dreyfuss, Tyson and Victor Bottenbley, who plays a local tribesman who befriends Dreyfuss in a series of awkward flashbacks. The accents employed by the cast are also quite a distraction.

The film was shot in French Guyana and the locations are beautiful. It is lovely to see Richard Dreyfuss in a role a world away from his usual fare and Timothy Spall, who seems to be everywhere at the moment (The Last Samurai, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is always fun even if it feels like he’s acting in a different film. There are some lovely moments of humour and a lyrical pace that could have been better utilised.

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is a more accessible film from Rolf De Heer. It is certainly gentler than Bad Boy Bubby or Alexandra’s Project, and has an uplifting, happy ending. However, you never quite believe these characters are real. They have not made the transition from novel to living, breathing people, and it is this that makes it hard to care about what happens to them.