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1 item from 1992

AFI film reviews for June 29 The AFI International Film Festival runs through July 2 at Laemmle's Monica Theatre, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. Additional shows will be on the AFI Campus, 2021 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. Today's reviewed films are at the Monica unless noted.

29 June 1992 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »


1:15 p.m., 6:30 p.m.

Spanish actress Carmen Maura takes a serious turn in Belgian filmmaker Marion Hansel's tale of a population crisis in the near future. The crisis, in a turnabout, isn't of overpopulation but of human extinction -- threatened when all across Europe every pregnancy becomes overdue and, when labor is medically induced, every baby is stillborn.

Maura plays a TV newswoman impregnated during an impulsive coupling in a stalled elevator. When she finally announces her condition at work, she is given an assignment on overdue pregnancies as a lead-up to her own pregnancy leave.

However, just as she realizes how widespread and cataclysmic the condition is -- both for the mothers and the population at large -- she begins to carry on telepathic communications with her own child who announces that he and all the other unborn children are refusing to live in a world without hope.

The film has several effective moments, particularly involving mothers frantic over their condition, but the larger points are watered down by Hansel's lack of specifics over the precise nature of the unborn's depression and her confusion of "universal'' with "European.'' -- Henry Sheehan


1:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m.

The system works. When viewing the absorbing documentary "Brother's Keeper, '' that's the feeling you get about a simple farmer arrested for taking the life of his older brother. Viewers will likely be divided pro and con about the guilt or innocence of one Delbert Ward, an illiterate dairyman farmer who was charged with snuffing out the life of his Brother William, and brought to trial for what many considered an act of mercy.

Kindly put, The Ward Brothers were a dim lot: The four of them farmed in Upstate New York for their entire lives and were considered, basically, the village lunatics by their agricultural brethren. They were slovenly and kept pretty much to themselves, living together in a decrepit shack with no plumbing.

On the morning of June 6, 1990, one of the "boys'' was found dead in his bed. The coroner's report said the cause was suffocation.

Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky trace this strange human drama in its public unfoldings. We see a real-life trial told in its essential terms as Delbert Ward is brought to justice for what community leaders deemed, at worst, a mercy killing.

Skillfully juxtaposing private revelations with public documents, co-directors Berlinger and Sinofsky have created a mesmerizing portrait of the American justice system and revealed an insight into this country's nature -- throughout, there is the feeling that people take care of one another, and neither laws nor outsiders can quell inherent qualities of decency. -- Duane Byrge


1:45 p.m., 7 p.m.

The social and the personal get all bound up -- make that messed up -- in this 1980 telefilm by Mike Leigh ("Life Is Sweet'') which builds from scenes of routine day-to-day interactions to a climax of calamitously unwelcome class interaction.

A young working-class couple (Phillip Davis and Lesley Manville) have moved into their own home, a comfortable, if cramped, semi-detached row house. Their hoped-for privacy is interrupted more or less continuously by the wife's sister (Janine Duvitski), an unmarried woman well on her way to spinsterhood, who is forever dropping over for endless cups of tea.

As it turns out, the young couple have the last state-subsidized "council house'' on the street; not only do the next-door couple own their own, but the husband turns out to have been the high school teacher of his new neighbors. This leads to cautious, reluctant hellos, which burst into convulsive, invasive intimacy when Duvitski, told she's not wanted as a guest anymore, has an attack of hysteria and pulls the neighbors into the family squabbles.

The film manages to be understanding towards some, though far from all, of the characters without ever being sympathetic for the moment. Leigh -- as he was doing in all of his films of this period -- ruthlessly exposes what he apparently believes is the inherent nastiness and philistinism of most of the English. -- Henry Sheehan


4 p.m., 9:15 p.m.

A notebook film built around the musings of a film director -- played by Maximilian Schell -- planning to make a biographical feature about Franz Kafka. As Schell's fictional filmmaker ponders various books and papers, or gazes out his Prague hotel window at a Jewish cemetary, actual co-writer/director Jaromil Jires cuts to dramatized portions of the life of Kafka (Christopher Chaplin), particularly his largely unrealized romantic life and an encounter with the police, re-created scenes of Prague's Jewish history, and even a pair of film versions of the Golem legend, which was set in Prague.

As the action progresses, it focuses increasingly on Kafka's Jewishness, the rise of Nazism and the death of his family in concentration camps after his own untimely passing. Jires does a good job of emphasizing Kafka's role as a social prophet, rather than as a purely personal and hallucinatory writer -- without disserving the latter. But like his fictional creation, he never does quite come up with a format that comfortably encloses all the points he wants to make while actually bringing us close to Kafka the man. -- Henry Sheehan


4:15 p.m., 9:30 p.m.

Sadly, "The Stranger'' lacks much of the charm and substance of Satyajit Ray's previous films. There are glimpses of his former mastery, and a snippet or two of biting humor, but for the most part this film is a tedious diatribe with almost no movement at all. It's literally a sleeper.

Not based on Camus' novel, this film centers around a pending visit from an uncle not heard from for 35 years. His niece, Anila Bose (Mamata Shankar), is excited at seeing the uncle she barely remembers. Her naturally suspicious husband, Sudhindra (Deepankar De), however, distrusts the man even before meeting him. He tells his wife he needs proof before he'll accept the man's claim to be her uncle.

Finally, this relative "stranger, '' Manomohan Mitra (Utpal Dutt), arrives and immediately charms Anila and her son, Satyaki (Bikram Bhattacharya). But even after producing his passport, Mitra assures Sudhindra that it could be a fake and that Sudhindra shouldn't believe him so easily. Mitra plays on Sudhindra's cynical nature, causing his host to doubt his own doubts.

It's a cute setup, but then things quickly deteriorate as Mitra is forced to enter into a L-O-N-G debate about religion, science, technology and cannibalism.

The film comes to an almost complete standstill, and it becomes a struggle to make it to the finish.

One should be kind to strangers, but chances are history will be kinder to Ray's other, and more approachable, films (HR 5/22). -- Jeff Menell

(c) The Hollywood Reporter


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