Remembering Anita Ekberg (29-8–1931 – 11-1-2015) with Elsa and Fred in the Trevi Fountain

Anita Ekberg died today, at the age of 83, and  one way to remember her is to watch “La Dolce Vita,” and you might want to follow that with the 2014 remake of Marco Carnevale’s 2005 romantic comedy-drama, “Elsa and Fred.”

I don’t usually like  remakes  of foreign fims, but Shirley Maclaine and Christopher Plummer justify the new version, which is ably directed by Michael Radford. Maclaine has always been an under-rated actress, and the opportunity to see her, at the age of 80, in such a charming role, should not be missed. And Plummer is a perfect foil.

Since the remake is faithful to the original, and I don’t have much to say about it that i haven’t already written about the original,  I’ll leave you will a reprint of my 2008 review of Carnevale’s film:

There is a scene in Frederico Fellini ‘s autobiographical documentary “Intervista” in which the director and Marcello Mastroianni pay a visit to Anita Ekberg , during which the actor and actress watch their famous scene at the Trevi Fountain from”La Dolce Vita.” In Marco Carnevale’s “Elsa and Fred,” two ordinary people revisit that same scene in a way that is just as meaningful.

Elsa, an 82-year old Argentinean woman residing in Madrid, Spain, wants to live her last days to the fullest. On her apartment wall hangs a framed still of Ekberg in the Fountain. While entertaining Fred, the father of a woman whose headlights she has smashed in a minor car accident, she identifies the woman in the photograph as herself. While not seriously trying to pass as the voluptuous film star, that iconic moment in film history has made such an impact upon Elsa’s self-image that it may as well be a personal memory.

“Elsa and Fred” makes some astute observations about the relationship of movies to the fantasy lives of those who come under their spell. China Zorrilla and Manuel Alexandre, a Uruguayan actress and Spanish actor whose careers date back to the 1940s, are wonderful as the twilight romantics who refuse to let reality come between them and their dreams. Whether feigning innocence when caught in a lie or launching into a vigorously joyful performance of Bach’s Minuet in G Major, Zorrilla is always riveting. Alexandre’s quiet performance is modulated by the subtlest changes in facial expression as he evolves from a tidy hypochondriac to a cholesterol-defying epicurean.

When these two share the frame, the rest of the world ceases to exist, and we are carried away by the magic of their performances. The film’s subplots, revolving around the squabbling disapproval of the younger generation, are not on the same level.

The acting is good, particularly Blanca Portillo as Fred’s screechy and vindictive daughter Coco, but the situations are trite.It doesn’t matter, though. With the passionate crescendos of Lito Vitale’ lush musical score, the beauty that cinematographerJuan Carlos Gomez  finds in the faces of its aging performers and the impeccable humanity of Carnevale’s direction, “Elsa and Fred” is the best movie about the movies since “Cinema Paradiso.”  And who would have guessed that, in this ageof excess and one-upmanship, when bigger is always better, the year’s most romantic screen kiss would last a mere two seconds. (Bill White, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 31, 2006)


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