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Antonio Bolivar (Richard Dreyfuss) lives in the village of El Idilio, a widower of many years, whose wife died shortly after their arrival in the Amazon, where the Government encouraged young families to colonise the jungle. Now 60-ish, the natives have accepted him, and his one friend is a bohemian, rustic dentist, Rubicondo (Hugo Weaving). When Bolivar expresses an interest in books, Rubicondo persuades him read the pulpy romantic novels read by his mistress Josefina (Cathy Tyson), rather than the Bible. Reclusive, but happy and familiar with the jungle, Bolivar is coerced by the venal village Mayor (Timothy Spall) into tracking down a jaguar which has killed a poacher, a task that makes him reflect on his life and its relationships.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Filled out by details and anecdotes from the rich imagination of the writer, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is a character study that takes us into the exotica of the Amazon and the proximity of a man who begins to reflect on the truths and beauties of life almost absent mindedly. Despite, or perhaps because of, the many logistical, physical and financial difficulties of making the film, Rolf de Heer has wrought a remarkably engaging adaptation, aided by beautiful, powerful images and an excellent crew - including sound designer James Currie and composer Graham Tardif, whose combined efforts are a significant element in the film's success.

Richard Dreyfuss makes the self reflective, reclusive Bolivar interesting and credible (including a well sustained accent), by the sheer refinement of his technique. Bolivar is a man who recognises the value of the essentials of life, such as the beauty and ideas that words might convey, as equally as the beauty of the female jaguar pining for the cubs stolen from her - and seeking revenge.

Timothy Spall's rotund, moustachioed, black-haired Mayor is broadly drawn and his accent is wobbly, but Hugo Weaving makes a nice fist of the dissolute, ruffian dentist. I also like Victor Bottenbley - an unlikely name for a South American Indian - who plays Nushino, the local Indian leader who befriends Antonio. But the film's greatest strength is its sinewy ability to keep us involved in the character and avoiding the trap of turning the story into a jaguar hunt. Indeed, that becomes an extension of the discovery of Bolivar's character, with insights of simple but noble humanity.

The film includes many of the supporting events and asides, snatches of life and snippets of humour that inhabit novels, but never stumbles over them. Memorable, with something to say about the human condition, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is gentle yet powerful - like nature itself - and reflects on de Heer as a filmmaker who is comfortable with his craft and the self that is reflected through it.

Rumble in the Jungle, the DVD special feature that was mostly shot on location and takes us behind the scenes, is an intelligently made 35-minute extra; it’s main weakness being lesser quality image (but excellent sound). Rolf de Heer and the cast give informative and/or amusing interviews and there is a sense of sincerity that is the trademark of independent projects. And Dreyfuss pays de Heer a big compliment, which is also not that unusual.

The disc also contains a 35 minute, edited Q & A with Rolf de Heer and Hugo Weaving conducted by Michaela Boland at one of Sydney’s Popcorn Taxi evenings. (This, too, is sub-standard visually for DVD, but its content makes up for it.) It begins with de Heer explaining some of the problems that complicated the film’s release, from the take over and then the shutting down of the French production company financing it, and other associated troubles, including some to do with the French producer, Michelle de Broca. 

The session goes on to reveal the film’s history, from writing it in 1996, shooting it in 1999 and finally releasing it in 2004. The personable de Heer and shy Hugo Weaving make a surprisingly entertaining double act.

Published October 7, 2004

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CAST: Richard Dreyfuss, Timothy Spall, Hugo Weaving, Cathy Tyson, Victor Bottenbley

DIRECTOR: Rolf de Heer

SCRIPT: Rolf de Heer (novel by Luis Sepulvada)

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scene featurette; Q & A with Rolf de Heer & Hugo Weaving, trailer


DVD RELEASE: September 1, 2004

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