Netflix Update No. 85: “Camilla”

November 20, 2013



Movies that look squarely at romance as a phenomenon of old age are relatively rare, but we watched a worthy exception: the 1994 film “Camilla” with Jessica Tandy in the title role — the next-to-last of her career.
This film, shot in Canada and Georgia, concerns a young married couple from Toronto — Vincent and Freda Lopez (played by Elias Koteas and Bridget Fonda) — and an elderly pair who once were in love but have long been apart.

Vince is an artist and Freda is a musician and composer, but Vince doesn’t take her ambitions seriously and thinks of music only as her hobby. This, of course, is a point of tension in their marriage. The pair go off on a vacation, booking quarters in an outbuilding associated with the home of Camilla Cara, a retired concert violinist whose accounts of her past seem to drift in and out of reality.Watching over Camilla, or hovering over her, is her worrywart son Harold (Maury Chaykin) who produces B movies.

Camilla 2
Camilla and Freda have a common interest in music, and they quickly develop a relationship in which Freda gets the encouragement that she hasn’t gotten from Vince. Vince and Harold also have some common interests, and they embark on a joint business project, but Freda declines to go along when the men leave for Toronto to pursue their scheme. Camilla’s reminiscences often focus on a concert she played in the Winter Garden in Toronto — a concert that perhaps didn’t go quite the way she describes it. After the men leave, Camilla agrees to Freda’s suggestion that they, too, go to Toronto, but for the purpose of attending a concert at the Winter Garden where a soloist will perform the same Brahms piece Camilla played there decades before. Their eventful trip includes a visit to Ewald (Tandy’s husband, Hume Cronyn), a violin maker and Camilla’s former lover.

Camilla 3
As the two women squarely face the realities of their own lives Vincent and Howard, who panic when they return to Savannah and cannot find Camilla and Freda, undertake some reevaluation of their own. The critics didn’t rave about this film, which was directed by Deepa Mehta, but they were of one mind in praising Jessica Tandy’s performance. She died at the age of 85 the same year this film was released, and yet she seems as if she’s at the height of her powers in this role: warmhearted, impish, and passionate. Janet Maslin of the the Times wrote: “While ‘Camilla’ reveres its heroine, hers is hardly a standard great-lady role. Not every octogenarian actress would be game for skinny-dipping, fishing, violin playing and a wonderfully tender bedroom scene with her real-life husband.” This  movie has been criticized as contrived, but whether or not that is valid, Jessica Tandy alone is worth the price of admission.




2 Responses to “Netflix Update No. 85: “Camilla””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I’m getting to the age where I’ve seen enough of life to know that what sometimes seems contrived actually can be quite an accurate reflection of the way things are. I’ve always admired Tandy, and that fishing photo is great bait – together with your review, enough to get me to bite on this film.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      The encounter between Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn is touching, thrilling in a way, and — I suppose — a bit of cinematic history.

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