Our Souls at Night review – Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in a moving autumn romance

This adaptation of Kent Haruf’s novel is a graceful, easygoing, sincere film about a couple finding solace in each other and respite from their Edward Hopper lives

It’s raining in the morning ahead of the Our Souls at Night screening. The bedraggled delegates gather outside the theatre. There is a click of umbrellas, a squelch of wet shoes. These people are in dire need of some cinematic chicken soup, a spoonful of comfort food to soothe aching limbs and revive flagging spirits. They are soon to receive rather more than a spoonful. It’s about to come down in bucket-loads.

Adapted from the Kent Haruf novel, Our Souls at Night is your classic Hollywood weepie, so immaculately played that it confounds crass preconceptions. It arrived in Venice saddled with a premise that could hardly sound more cloying, together with an unfortunate title that has had hardened British hacks giggling like schoolboys at the back of the class. Critics get their first sniff of Our Souls at Night! Two thumbs up: Our Souls at Night! But Ritesh Batra’s film comes cynic-proofed. It won me over from the very first scene.

Louis (Robert Redford) is a widower who lives on the sleepy fringes of small-town Colorado, where he is unable to get much shut-eye of his own. He’s always up before the sun comes up, with the radio on and the newspaper open, just another lonesome old man living an Edward Hopper existence. Then one night there’s a tap on the door and in walks Addie (Jane Fonda), who lives across the street and is in pretty much the same boat. Out of the blue, without preamble, Addie asks Louis if he wouldn’t mind coming over to sleep with her. Not for the sex, just for the company, because she is lonely and the nights are the worst. It’s a terrific opening gambit and Fonda plays it with aplomb. Her appeal is so nakedly sincere that something catches in your chest.

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“Talk to me,” she says, once they are sitting in bed, and this is just what Louis does. He tells her of his extramarital affair and of his failed ambition to become a painter and she in turn tells him about her infant daughter, who was killed on the road. Batra cleverly frames these encounters as an intimate dialogue, like My Night With Maude or a co-counselling session in which the participants are candid and direct in a way they could never otherwise be. His film is at its most affecting during these hushed exchanges, in the weeks before Louis and Addie take the relationship out of doors, thrilling the curtain-twitchers and rubberneckers and the gossipy old crocks down at Frederick’s cafe. Life moves on; wounds are healed. The pair are a secret, then a scandal. And then all of a sudden they’re not news anymore, just another elderly couple pottering down Main Street.

Batra made his reputation with The Lunchbox, a charming Mumbai-set romance, and Our Souls at Night shares the same connective tissue. It is a graceful, easygoing September song of a film, complete with slide guitar and autumn leaves; the perfect late showcase for Redford and Fonda, more than 50 years after they appeared together in The Chase. Both give performances of such quiet conviction that it scarcely looks like acting at all. They keep the film honest when it turns more conventional and pitches towards soap opera. There’s something moving about the sight of these two 60s poster-children grown old and careworn, and Batra’s film no doubt is trading on that. But it also provides them with fresh challenges; allows them ample room to stretch and breathe and find their range. Overnight, in the dark, Louis and Addie murmur their secrets and tend their wounds. When they step out, hand-in hand, into the daylight, they look just as beautiful as they ever did.

•Our Souls at Night was showing at the Venice film festival and will be available on Netflix from 29 September.

Contributor

Xan Brooks

The GuardianTramp

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