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Nicolette Krebitz on the Forbidden Pleasures of Older Women in “A E I O U: A Quick Alphabet of Love”

Love and desire in older women have often been considered scandalous and treated as such in cinema. But with her new film A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love, German director Nicolette Krebitz takes a lighthearted, forgiving approach to the subject that is both daring and refreshing.

Anna (Sophie Rois), an aging actress, finds meaning in her life again when she meets Adrian (Milan Herms), the teenage petty thief who tried to steal her purse. Even though the age gap is wide (she’s 60, he’s 17) the two have a lot in common. Both are alone and in need of affection but are also strong and uncompromising.

Anna’s voice lessons with Adrian, for his upcoming theater performance, gradually evolve into a subtle friendship. She discovers someone who is willing to see her and hear her as if for the first time – uninhibited by past glories and ideals, while he suddenly has someone who accepts him fully and admires his potential. Their relationship blossoms into a consummate love affair when the two escape to a small town on the French Riviera. A Quick Alphabet of Love maintains an essential playfulness and thirst for life.


“For some reason, I always end up writing an impossible love story,” Krebitz told us in our interview on Zoom after the Jerusalem Film Festival, where the film competed in the international selection. “My last film Wild was about a girl and a wolf. It was kind of turned away from society and had to do with the situation we’re living in where everybody must go inside and see what it is that they want from life. In this film, I turn a little bit back towards society, but I still wasn’t so interested in the usual man/woman/partner combination because I feel we’ve seen all these films already.”

“And so, I was interested in what women are doing these days when they create their own lives and they are no longer turning towards men for having their rent paid and food bought,” she went on. “I thought – where is the desire of a modern woman?”

In researching the subject, Krebitz spoke to many women who were financially independent and found that a lot of them were involved in relationships with younger men. “More and more women have more objects of desire,” she said. “That sounds so negative, but it’s not negative at all, it has to do with what [the women] want from their partners”.

These relationships often blossom after the child-bearing years, she explained. “It’s very much about what these two beings experience in seeing each other, what they reflect to each other.” The director’s calm and accepting demeanor, like that of her film, began to reveal itself as she continued: “I was interested in telling that story without preaching, without telling anybody what to do. Especially after the pandemic, everyone is thirsting for a lighter approach to things.”

Yet, despite the light approach, Krebitz confronted a deeply rooted taboo: “As long as they are adults over 18, I have nothing against it,” she chuckled referring to relationships of older women with younger men. “But society does,” she added, “and I think there are a lot of reasons for it. First, of course, older white men are excluded somehow in this occasion, so that makes them angry; the other thing is that when a woman does not give birth to children and when she’s only fulfilling her desire, the whole world doesn’t really want that”.

This societal rejection explains the oftentimes unhappy ending of movies dealing with the same subject, especially as far as the female character’s destiny goes. “Aging is a tough thing, you know. If you undress in front of a young person, of course, you compare skin and everything. But the young men I spoke to, who have a relationship with older women, they love especially that,” she said, smiling.

“The most important thing is that they can meet each other, that it’s only about those two – not about building a house or a family, but just about those two people who share whatever it is that they share. They have time together; they focus on each other, and they are very happy in this kind of relationship”.

For her, there’s an inherent beauty in this kind of story. “I wanted to put positive images out in the world, create something beautiful.” But beauty, the way she sees it, does not necessarily coincide with the references of a male-dominated culture. “It’s actually very difficult to create something beautiful,” she admitted; “you have people telling you ‘yeah but what is the story about?’ because it’s so hard for them to accept beauty if it’s not… Instagram-like or whatever.”

 “These young men are different,” she said. “They want to meet a woman on the same level of eyesight.” When confronting Adrian and his friends, Anna agrees that “it is not easy being a young man these days”. The heroine rejects the American dream that equals hard work with success and lets the boys know that this belief is false. She tells them, “There is not enough room for you”.

“Anna wants to teach Adrian that it’s not about doing a good job,” said the director. “The same thing with her as a woman and her job: It’s not about pleasing everybody; it’s about what you have to say and what you want to do. She wants to empower him.”  

But where does Nicolette Krebitz, a 49-year-old accomplished creator who has also worked as an actress, fall into the story of making A Quick Alphabet of Love? “When it comes to auteur cinema, it’s difficult enough (for an audience) to engage in a movie without focus on entertainment only,” she said. “So, I want to get out of a movie and feel strong, feel empowered to do something different. This is something I wanted to do.” Indeed, unlike other stories with similar themes, this one stays on a high note to the very end.

More, she wanted to make the film in West Berlin, her birthplace, paying tribute to locations reminiscent of other movies from the post-Fassbinder era. In the same context, her choice of Udo Kier, an icon of modern German cinema, for the role of Anna’s sympathetic gay landlord, was representative of her own wish to partake in the legacy of the great directors who made films before her.

“Also, I wanted to show women in the whole spectrum; not pleasing everybody but still being interesting, being beautiful and ugly, mean and sweet, everything possible… I wanted to create a world where I can see myself, getting older as a woman. I wanted to have a role model … To create a woman that I want to be” she said.

“The scariest thing [about getting older] to me is losing the desire to be touched and touch another human,” Krebitz went on. “For me, that’s really important – being close to my partner.” But, again, this idea is imposed by society: “I think it’s really fantastical how they manage to promote the belief that women lose their desire to love when they age while men don’t when it is probably the other way around”.

She talked about another kind of feminism in which older women find peace with their age but also the possibility of excitement. “If Anna would be a mother, this would be the time when her children would have left the house and she could stop paying whatever support they needed. At 60, you are on your own again and there are so many opportunities still.” 

Nicolette Krebitz smiled. “Women should feel good about [aging] and they should love themselves,” she said softly. But she had already made it clear, with her film and with her words, that even this simple lesson – as simple as learning to pronounce the vowels of the alphabet – has yet to be learned.