Love salutes septuagenarian sex, I.B. Singer

The libidinous life of the American writer has been a favorite, albeit controversial, topic for male Jewish authors from Philip Roth to Isaac Bashevis Singer to Woody Allen.

In the poignant, old-fashioned “Love Comes Lately,” German director Jan Schutte interweaves three Singer stories to create a droll portrait of an older writer for whom the life of the mind and the life of the body are inextricably connected.

For this genial gallivant, maintaining a lust for life in one’s golden years often includes lusting for a certain activity between the sheets. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the movie frequently flatters its septuagenarian hero at the expense of the female characters.

“Love Comes Lately” is the centerpiece film in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the opening-night film in Berkeley. The movie is sponsored by a grant from the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture with additional support from Germany’s Goethe-Institut.

“Love Comes Lately” will also receive a theatrical release in August.

The unlikely stud at the hub of the action is a 70-something New York Jew named Max Kohn (played by Otto Tausig), who still retains his distinctive European accent decades after he came over on the boat. Or perhaps it wasn’t that long ago, for “Love Comes Lately” has a musty, dated vibe as if it was made in the late ’50s or early ’60s.

Because he’s a writer who invents protagonists and scenarios, Max is by definition an active character. But things tend to happen to him, not the other way around, and he always seems slightly surprised, like a 12-year-old boy shot a wink by the waitress (another relic of the ’50s).

Max’s various paramours include his jealous girlfriend Reisel (Rhea Perlman) and a former student (a smoky-voiced Barbara Hersey) with whom he reconnects at a speaking gig on a small New England campus. In his stories, Max imagines himself as both the object of desire of a Latina maid (Elizabeth Pena) at a Florida hotel and the hard-to-resist next-door neighbor of a ravishing widow (Tovah Feldshuh, practically stealing the show).

The effect of mingling Max’s real life and imaginary one is not to indicate any erosion of his faculties but to suggest that his art has always been more important than the business or even the pleasure of everyday life.

Schutte, who will be in attendance for the San Francisco show, does a smooth, elegant job of integrating Singer’s stories “The Briefcase,” “Old Love” and “Alone.” However, the degree to which the filmmaker depicts all of the women as emotionally or sexually needy — a faithful rendering of the source material, I suspect — reveals the author’s inflated sense of self-worth at best and his old-school misogyny at worst.

Along those lines, it dawned on me during “Love Comes Lately” that Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry” — a borderline misogynistic (and savagely funny) movie about a writer that includes a lengthy sequence triggered by an honor at an out-of-town college — was clearly inspired by Singer’s writing.

I was also reminded of Paul Mazursky’s brilliant yet largely forgotten Singer adaptation, “Enemies, A Love Story,” which also deals with lust and fidelity.

“Love Comes Lately,” like that film, evokes a post-Holocaust world in which joy is fleeting, memories are long and all that really matters are the moments in which people connect.

“Love Comes Lately” screens at 7:45 p.m. July 27 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco; 6:45 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley; 7 p.m. Aug. 4 at the CineArts in Palo Alto; and 6:45 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

Cinema simcha

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.