Australian-based writer-director Paul Cox has made a series of mildly offbeat and generally very good films during the past 20 years — including Lonely Hearts (1981), Man of Flowers (1983) and A Woman’s Tale (1992) — without making much of a dent in American filmgoers’ consciousness, even in our cherished art-house ghetto. Which is a shame because he’s a world-class filmmaker with a penchant for bittersweet tales of missed opportunities and the strange experience of growing older, something everybody does but hardly anyone seems prepared for.

Innocence is a recognizably Coxian film, the story of two lovers renewing their relationship after almost 50 years. It’s both sweet and unseemly, and manages against all odds to avoid (for the most part) rank sentimentality.

The movie moves back and forth in time, from when Andreas (Charles Tingwell) and Claire (Julia Blake) were young lovers to the present when, both hovering around the age of 70, things get hot and heavy between the two once again. Andreas has been widowed for 30 years, but Claire is still married and her husband John (Terry Norris), after his initial disbelief, is deeply shocked that his wife still has carnal needs.

Tingwell and Blake make an appealing couple, their guilelessness no doubt accounting for the film’s title, but the best performance here is from Norris, who evolves from a kindly but clueless old coot to a sadly bewildered husband. Andreas and Claire’s last fling is both ecstatic and disruptive, and rather than just give us a fuzzy wallow Cox makes the point that sometimes when love flows freely not everyone escapes unharmed.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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