Sexual awakening isn’t just for the young anymore. In Andreas Dresen’s Cloud 9, married sixtysomething Inge (Ursula Werner) takes a septuagenarian lover, resulting in several of the most graphic amatory displays among two people generally considered “unattractive” since Marcos Hernandez pumped away at Bertha Ruiz in Battle in Heaven. But apart from standing as a stern rebuke to those who prefer their elderly fully clothed (and Dresen’s lovers always maintain their dignity whatever their state of undress), Cloud 9 grounds its sex scenes in a genuine commitment to its characters and to exploring the messy consequences of their actions, an involvement that invests the sex scenes with considerable meaning beyond the initial shock of seeing so much aged flesh.
Inge, married for the last 30 years to Werner (Horst Rehberg), spends her time altering clothes out of her apartment for a small profit, singing in the church choir, and generally enduring a happy but dull existence with the man who helped raise her children. When one day she delivers a pair of pants to a client, 76-year old Karl (Horst Westphal), she winds up kissing him and before she knows it they’re in bed together. At first Inge is reluctant to repeat the experiment despite the willingness of her lover, but eventually the excitement of her rediscovered sexuality becomes too much—she’s even taken to masturbating in the bathtub—and she begins visiting Karl every chance she gets. Despite the advice of her grown daughter who advises her to remain mum, she confesses the affair to her husband and the rest of the film is devoted to exploring the practical and emotional consequences of this unexpected late-life moment of crisis.
At the heart of Cloud 9 is Werner’s lead performance, a fine bit of acting that finds the round-faced thespian nailing both the subtleties of facial expression (a pre-coitus attack of conscience where her mien progresses from excitement to sadness to forced happiness) and the convulsive release of emotion. Werner expertly channels the range of sentiment visiting Inge as she departs from the dull predictability of the last 30 years of her life, moving from the initial guilt to an embrace of newfound possibility, but to his credit, Dresen remains notably sensitive in his attention to both her husband and her lover as well. Only in the final moments—and an unexpected bit of tragedy which serves to unfairly undermine some of Inge’s personal gains—does the director lose his perfect pitch, but until then he manages to record with a sharp attention to behavioral detail—and a great deal of sympathy—the sorrows and triumphs of a population sorely underrepresented on the big screen, especially when it comes to sexual matters.