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Adelina, a former "Miss Smiles" beauty queen, is a resident at a senior citizen retirement home. Her joie de vie and unfaded beauty make her attractive to the male residents, especially Andrea, a dapper and charming but married septuagenarian. Their initial mutual attraction evolves into physical desire, but their families and the conservative culture of the institution conspire against their consummating their love. Written by
Previous film excursions on the subject of geriatric romance has concentrated on the more ethereal and platonic aspects of the experience. The heartbreakingly beautiful "Make Way for Tomorrow," directed by Leo McCarey, told the story of two aging septuagenarians (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi), whom logistics and economics force out of their home and into living apart. On the last night they will ever spend together, they reenact their honeymoon held decades earlier in New York City. Their final moments together are tender and bittersweet, and the subject of sex never enters the equation.
In "On Golden Pond" Ethel and Norman Thayer (Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda) are being separated by something more insidious than mere economic considerations, Norman's progressive descent into dementia. This will likely be the last summer that they will spend together at their beloved lake cabin and the poignancy of that realization leaves no room for any consideration of the carnal side of their relationship.
Marco Ferreri's highly original "The House of Smiles" explores very different territory. Adelina, a 70 year old former "Miss Smiles" beauty queen and model, is a resident at a senior citizen retirement home. Her 'joie de vie' and unfaded beauty make her an object of attraction to the male residents, especially Andrea, a dapper and charming septuagenarian living there with a wife undergoing treatment for an unspecified illness.
When their initial attraction evolves into physical desire, they try to find places suitable for private rendezvous, but the culture of the institution conspires against them. Their fellow residents, usually preoccupied with food, incontinence, and TV soap operas, are alternately shocked by, envious of, and fascinated with the concept of senior sexuality. Andrea's wife and Adelina's widowed daughter-in-law voice their disdain for the relationship, and the chorus of disapproval is joined by the hospice staff who find their comfortable routines disrupted by the amorous pair, who consistently refuse to conform and act their ages.
Ironically, the transitory community of migrant African workers at the complex provides the couple with sympathy and enables the romance by providing an appropriately named "watermelon" camper, painted pink with black seeds as a clandestine rendezvous.
Unlike the couples in the previous films, Adelina and Andrea do not have a long romantic history to reflect on. Like two adolescents, they are in the first blush of mutual attraction and literally can't keep their eyes... and hands off each other.
Unfortunately the mean-spirited full-time staff decides to cool the inconvenient relationship by cruelly stealing 'The Queen of Smile's dentures, a blow to her pride and self-esteem. The inefficient bureaucracy of national health care moves too slowly to help her and her parsimonious family, the recipients of what's left of her fortune, selfishly refuse to part with any of it to help her. Adelina and Andrea's solutions to their problems are alternately poignant and funny. Will the pair find fulfillment and happiness? The feisty, self-sufficient, and non-conformist Adelina is not someone to give up in the face of adversity, and her optimism makes her a survivor.
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