Films

Death of a utopian dream

Bravery, betrayal mark a Spanish Civil War tale

Brian D. Johnson April 8 1996
Films

Death of a utopian dream

Bravery, betrayal mark a Spanish Civil War tale

Brian D. Johnson April 8 1996

Death of a utopian dream

Films

Bravery, betrayal mark a Spanish Civil War tale

LAND AND FREEDOM

Directed by Ken Loach

With its overblown pageant of kilted warriors battling for land and freedom in football-fan face paint, Braveheart triumphed at last week’s Oscars. But here is a much smaller movie about revolutionary war, a saga with a cast of dozens that has more bravery, more heart—and more brains. Land and Freedom is the first major feature about the Spanish Civil War since For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). A tale of revolution betrayed, it dramatizes a crucial turning point in both the rise of fascism and the corruption of communism. Directed by Britain’s master of working-class realism, Ken Loach {Riff Raff, Raining Stones), this is a film brimming with ideas. But it plays as an enthralling drama on an intimate scale.

The story focuses on an idealistic Liverpool worker named David (Ian Hart) who goes to Spain to join the international militia battling Franco’s Fascists in 1936. He learns the hardship of trench warfare with a band of male and female volunteers from Europe and North America. He savors the camaraderie. He falls in love. But the movie, like the war, is a tragically doomed romance. As the Communist party takes control of the struggle, outlawing the popular militia, David sees Spain’s revolution cruelly sabotaged by Stalinists.

Hart, who played John Lennon with such authority in Backbeat, has a compelling intensity. And, with semi-improvised performances, Loach creates a wholly authentic sense of documentary realism. Midway through the film, there is a tortured debate among militia members about collectivizing a village’s land, a scene that encapsulates an entire legacy of leftwing discourse about whether to change the world now or later. The movie, like that scene,

is not just about the Spanish Civil War. With his small band of militia, Loach has created a passionate drama that reflects in microcosm the collapse of world communism. It is a rare undertaking, one that shows there is more to history than dumb heroics and bloody spectacle.

Chazzy and Cher

FAITHFUL

Directed by Paul Mazursky

This month, moviegoers can choose between two mysteries starring Chazz Palminteri in which characters plot to kill their spouses. And there is no contest. Diabolique, a desultory remake featuring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani, is trash. Boring trash. But Faithful is an urbane, witty confection. Returning to the screen in style after a six-year absence, Cher stars as Margaret, a Rolls-Roycedriving housewife who is depressed that her Porsche-driving husband (Ryan O’Neal) is cheating on her. Home alone on their 20th anniversary, she is considering suicide when she is accosted and tied up by a hit man (Palminteri), who says her husband has hired him to kill her.

Based on Palminteri’s 1994 play, Faithful has a stagy contrivance to it. But the script offers nifty plot twists, lots of deadpan repartee about sexual ethics—and a hilarious running gag involving phone calls between the hit man and his therapist. This is a wise guy with neuroses worthy of Woody Allen on steroids. Palminteri and Cher keep the comic chemistry percolating. And amazingly, Cher is still Cher: sexy, sphinx-like and eerily unchanged.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Blood odyssey

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER

Directed by David 0. Russell

American film-maker David 0.

Russell made his stunning feature debut two years ago with Spanking the Monkey, an edgy comic drama about mother-son incest. Now he has written and directed a wonderfully giddy farce. Flirting with Disaster has an unlikely premise. A Manhattan entomologist named Mel (Ben Stiller) sets off across America to track down his biological parents. Along for the ride are his wife, Nancy (Patricia Arquette), their baby son and a psychologist from the agency where Mel was adopted—a svelte ex-dancer named Tina (Téa Leoni). The triangle that forms seems implausible from the start. But it hardly matters. As the characters’ road odyssey gathers momentum, a series of wild complications turns Flirting with Dis-

aster into a comedy of errors that can do no wrong.

An eclectic cast features Mary Tyler Moore playing against type as Mel’s adoptive mother, a shrill Jewish matron. George Segal portrays her nattering husband. Forming another odd couple, Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda turn up late in the movie as Mr. and Mrs. Schlichting, whose names provide no end of malapropisms, but whose roles are better left undisclosed. Propelled by a series of small surprises, the story zigzags towards a predictable conclusion. But despite its formulaic elements, there is something invigorating about a movie that contains such lines as: “I’m sorry that I put the windowpane [LSD] in Mel’s quail and that you ate it.”

B.D.J.