cover image Mr. Wilder and Me

Mr. Wilder and Me

Jonathan Coe. Europa, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-60945-792-1

English author Coe (Middle England) offers a witty elegy for the last gasp of old Hollywood. While backpacking across America in 1976, 21-year-old Greek musician Calista Frangopoulou has a chance encounter with real-life 70-year-old film director Billy Wilder at a Beverly Hills restaurant. So charmed is Wilder with Calista that he invites her to work as his interpreter on the production of his next movie, Fedora, on Corfu. After proving herself invaluable to the director, Calista travels with Wilder to Munich for further filming. There, Wilder, a Viennese Jew who fled Germany before WWII, is forced once again to confront his country’s Nazi past. Meanwhile, Calista stumbles into a romance with a young English film student. A lengthy flashback to Wilder’s life as a German émigré is affectingly rendered in screenplay format. Coe’s fictionalized account of the real-life filming of Fedora—which Wilder’s inability to finance in Hollywood his writing partner incisively attributes to the business’s youth-obsessed preference for “kids with beards,” such as Spielberg and Scorsese—is filled with hilarious anecdotes and some hard-won wisdom. As Wilder embarks on what will turn out to be his penultimate picture, Coe brings great sympathy to his touching depiction of an older artist fighting to remain relevant. Coe’s fans will fall for this one. (Sept.)