FILMS

Kamouraska: A Dazzling Achievement

JOHN HOFSESS May 1 1973

FILMS

Kamouraska: A Dazzling Achievement

JOHN HOFSESS May 1 1973

FILMS

Kamouraska: A Dazzling Achievement

JOHN HOFSESS

There is nothing on the horizon of summer film releases from America and Europe nearly as interesting as the lineup of Canadian films we’ll be seeing shortly — three to four per month for the rest of the year. Prior to 1973, that sentence couldn’t have been written. This is the first year in which an intense battle at the box office can be expected between foreign films and Canadian features — such as Peter Pearson’s Paperback Hero, Gilles Carle’s La Mort d’un Bûcheron, Don Shebib’s Get Back, Claude Fournier’s^ lien Thunder, Harvey Hart’s The Pyx, Ivan Reitman’s Cannibal Girls, and, above all others, Claude Jutra’s Kamouraska starring Geneviève Bujold, which since an English-subtitle print will not be released for several months yet it would be premature to review in detail, but which I consider to be one of the 10 best films I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen it five times already. It’s the kind of masterpiece I’d be glad to see at least once a year for the rest of my life. Bujold has never been better or more beautiful. Jutra has never been riper with masterful insights. Kamouraska is a fierce story about love, and is the fulfillment of that long awaited dream, The Great Canadian Movie. The following survey of late spring and early summer American and British films will turns the decks, as it were, for the months to come when this column will be devoted to Canadian films in what is an unusually exciting year for our film industry.

Lost Horizon is a collapsed soufflé, and it’s no consolation to know that it was made with the best ingredients. The stellar cast — Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, John Gielgud, Charles Boyer, Michael York, Sally Kellerman — turns out to be a motley collection of incongruities, especially for a musical. The score composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (who once invented a basic “signature” tune and have since written dozens of variations on it) is even less hummable than usual. Producer Ross Hunter (Magnificent Obsession, Imitation OJ Life, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Airport, among others) regularly shows the Midas touch in producing mass entertainment, and Lost Horizon is no exception. It’s a great anti-movie for the “silent majority,” a spring tonic for the Geritol set. Any film maker who gives as many people pleasure as Ross Hunter does in his films is not to be despised, although no sophisticated filmgoer will find anything of value in this adaptation 'of James Hilton’s wispy, escapist novel about Shangri-la and longevity. Most of us would rather live fast and die young than accept immortality on terms such as these. If the film succeeds in broadening Liv Ullmann’s following (for many people will be seeing her for' the first time) it will be well worth the debade of taste which Lost Horizon represents. She performs consistently with great dignity and gives the film its only touch of class.

Two People; producer-director Robert Wise (The Sound Of Music) has hit the low point in his career with this interminably talkative love story, starring Peter Fonda as Evan Bonner, a deserter from Vietnam, who meets a fashion model, Deirdre McCluskey (Lindsay Wagner). It’s two different worlds, and all that sort of thing; a theme which is almost impossible to ring any changes on. Set in the 1970s, a Brief Encounter story looks sillier than ever, and Fonda and Wagner give one little reason to be interested in their romantic agonies. Wait a year, it’ll be on televisidn.

Tom Sawyer: children’s entertainment perks up considerably with this Arthur P. Jacob’s production, financed by Reader’s Digest and United Artists; a musical version of the Mark Twain story, well acted by Walt Disney childactor veteran Johnny Whitaker, Celeste Holm, Warren Oates and Kunu Hank as Injun Joe. If the lovable folksiness seems calculated, it at least doesn’t look thoroughly insincere, and the film is never guilty of talking down to a children’s level. The few songs by Robert and Richard Sherman are sprightly and lightly likable. It’s a thoroughly creditable rendering of an American classic.

RECOMMENDED THIS MONTH

KAMOURASKA: A towering classic by Claude Jutra currently in its World Premiere run in Quebec; THE RAINBOW BOYS: Kate Reid, Donald Pleasence, Don Calta in a bawdy farce shot in British Columbia; CRIES AND WHISPERS: Ingmar Bergman's best film since Persona; SLEUTH: Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine; THE HEARTBREAK KID: Best American comedy since The Graduate; THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN: a superb children’s film by Lionel Jeffries who made The Railway Children; CANNIBAL GIRLS: Canadian horror film, by Ivan Reitman laced with sex and shock.

The Long Good-bye: Robert Altman’s uneven career (M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud, McCabe And Mrs. Miller, Images, among others) takes a small surge in this hardboiled satire, starring Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s private detective, Philip Marlowe, in a plot with so many loose ends that -one wishes Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple would arrive on the scene to tidy things up. The film is less of a mystery than an excuse for violence, and it may represent a cynical shift by Altman, after the generally negative response to his last film Images, to make a film that sells by appealing to baser and more elementary passions in the filmgoing public. Elliott Gould remains a neither-here-nor-there actor, but turns in an acceptable, low-keyed performance. It’s a film aimed squarely at the gut.

Slither: this first feature by Howard Zieff (who created the Alka-Seltzer commercials that set sales soaring with the lines “try it, you’ll like it,” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”) is one long preamble to a punch line that never occurs. It stars James Caan, Sally Kellerman, Peter Boyle and Louis Lasser as a mildly amusing crew of cons, speed freaks and neurotics in hot pursuit of money. Its snaky plot lives up to its title but the humor never rises above the sophomoric.

Ludwig: Luchino Visconti (Death In Venice, The Damned) has sadly come a cropper with his latest film. At 67 and in impaired health, Visconti seems able only to parody himself in this sluggish treatment of the Bavarian monarch King Ludwig II (Helmut Berger), too effete to be politically effective. It’s not that the theme is unimportant, it’s just that Visconti adds nothing new. The cast, consisting of Trevor Howard as composer Richard Wagner, Romy Schneider as Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Silvana Mangano as Wagner’s mistress, among others, are fine, but Visconti seems much more interested in the operatic excesses of decadence than its political consequences, and that makes his approach seem more confusedly hypocritical than profound. Ludwig is the trap, between aesthetic pleasures and political realities, that Visconti always ran the risk of falling into; and he falls hard. The film is long, the pleasures few and marginal. ■

John Hofsess is a Canadian film director and critic