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Month
February
Year
1996
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1995. Directed by Ang Lee. Cast: Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet. Columbia Pictures. 135 mins.] Who does Emma Thompson think she s? ... everybody? Make no mistake about it. Sydney Pollack produced Sense and Sensibility. Ang Lee directed Sense and Sensibility. For that matter, Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility. But it's Thompson 's film. Perhaps the single most heartwarming thing about this recent translation of Austen 's novel is Thompson's exceedingly generous screenplay. She's written a sure Oscar-winning script that gives most of the great dialogue to the film's supporting cast. Yet make no mistake about it: Thiss Thompson's movie ... all the way. Jane Austen's romance concerns the three Dashwood sisters- sensible Ellnor (Thompson), dreamy Marianne (Winslet), and youthful Margaret (Emilie Francote) - whose temperaments are as very different as nkjht and day. When their father dies unexpectedly, the family's mansion passes to the son of his f irst marriage. And just as suddenly , the girls are displaced f rom their warm gentry life to being perilously close to impovershment. Fortunately, they and their mother (Gemma Jones), are given the use of a relative's cottage and they adjust themselves to their new circumstance. But before they vacate their estáte, Elinor meets her sister-in-law's brother, Edward (Hugh Grant), and they are mmediately smitten by each other's practical outlook on life. Elinor's pragmatic nature is readily attracted to Edward 's insecure longing to be a rural church pastor. Yet, alas, Elinor's lack of fortune also conspires to separate the reserved, and secretly infatuated, couple. By contrast, after the girls have settled into their modest new surround ings, the high-spirited Marianne is immediately courted by a wealthy neighbor, Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). Almost simultaneously, she's swept off her f eet by the passionate John Willoughby (Greg Wise). Brandon is the more secure of the two men, but Willoughby is clearly the love of her life. Given Marianne's mercurial temperament, she's torn between her visceral attraction to Willoughby and Brandon's honorable comportment. In this tidy contrast between resolute characters, Jane Austen has crafted a tale of marmers whose sibling ups and downs arebothdeligrrtful and incisive. Indeed, pertiaps Thompson's wisest move is not to fiddle too much with an already proven commodity. She merely modemizes its premiso without being pushy. There's a thoroughly neofeminist smarts about Thompson's play that allows us to see through the patriarchal class structures of 19th century England without being too oppressed about these sisters' romantic relations. Thompson tums the tidy trick of having her proverbial cake ... while eatlng it, too. The intelligence of thistalented actress is now coming more clearly into view. Thompson 's obviously absorbed that time honored notion that the best way to look smart is to make everyone else around you look smarten Thompson 's generosity with her peers in Sense and Sensibility tums her work in this film - both written and performlng - into what may be afuturefilm classic. At the least, there can be no question now but that she, and Jodie Foster, are the signa] actresses of her generation. Jane Austen's not having such a bad year, either. With this film; last year's BBC production of Persuasión; Amy Heckerling's cheeky updating of Emma by way of Clueless; and the up-coming Mansfleld Park, Austen's got a serious hot streak going. Add to these films the ever-popular 1940 Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice and Austen's pretty much set on the big screen. What she says about 19th century England 's social life will be of perennial interest as long as there is a palpable división of the sexes by money , moráis, and personal obligations. By shrewdly casting herdilemmas in thoroughly human foibles, Austen hascrafted charactersand predicaments that have - and will always have - atimeless emotional resonance. It says quite a bit of Emma Thompson that at her comparat i v sly young age, she's seen her way to this considerable bit of wisdom. Following the success of Sense and Sensibility, it's good to know that nice people can indeed finish first. BURNTBYTHESUN [1 994. Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov. Cast: Nikita Mikhalkov, Oleg Menshikov, Ingeborga Daupunaite. Russian with English subtitles. Sony Classics. 134 mins.] ft m fa n ■m epentance may have been among the f irst 11 of a Russian film cycle to criticize the Soviet Stalinist model. Although, of course, the Eastern Europeans tumed this sort of cinema into a state-subsidized cottage industry during the Cold War. Yet critiques of communism aren 't likely to get much more effective than Nikita Mikhalkov's Bumt by the Sun. A love story, a morality tale, and a searing polrtical condemnation, Bumt by the Sun packs a considerable wallop in lts short running time. Mikhalkov has quite a bit of bittemess to get off his chest. And he does it with an economy, wit, and intelligence that clearly deserved last year's Academy Award Foreign-Language Oscar. Dmitrii (Oleg Menshikov) shows up at his exgirlfriend's home a decade after his sudden disappearance. Marusia (Ingeborga Daupunaite), tried to commit suicide after he left, but she is now married to Sergei Petrovich Kotov (Mikhalkov), a fabled Bolshevik military hero. Kotov and his in-laws live a countryside idyll away from the bustle of the revolution. He still serves the party, but only in that time-honored tradition with which revered military men are admired once they're out of power. Ufe is better than any of them can imagine. Yet Kotov is vaguely aware that Dmitrii 's sudden return is not the benign event it ostensibly seems. For it tums out that Dmitrii is a f ormer White Russian now working for the Soviet secret pólice and Kotov is to be the casualty of one of the Communist party's recurrent purges that took place in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Both men know the decisión has been made and the players must take their positions. What is left is the slim reed of hope. With this knowledge in our hands, Mikhalkov - who starred, directed, and wrote Bumt by the Sun - allows us to witness the subtle, almost diaphanous, illusions each of these characters cherish despite the growing shadows that ominously surround them. And what, in a less sensitivecircumstance, might haveturned into aheavyhanded diatribe, is instead a painfully all-too human tale of lost opportunities and deliberated considerations. Mikhalkov is concemed about those loves radiating outward like penetrating rays of the sun muted by a thoughtless and insidious evil. Surely the greatest villain of the 2Oth century - despite his dedicated competition - Stalin emerges from this side-long portrait as an allpervasive omnipresent malignancy whose hypocritical and mendacious stewardship wrecks devastation upon his people. But Mikhalkov isfartoo clever to launch heedlessly into crude polemics. Rather, he allows Kotov's belated recognition of his fate to do his painful work for him. By this film's ironie and bittersweet end, it's clearly evident Mikhalkov believes totalitarianism is a cruel blight upon the human soul. Winner and losers alike are bumt by the irrational cruelty of Stalin's oppressively mindless politica! convulsions. The heat generated by Bumt by the Sun is most certainly hot. By Mikhalkov's reckoning, Stalin's totalitarianism is sufficiently scalding as to scorch the memories of the victims who lived and irreparably tamish the memories of those unfortunates who perished through it. His subtle masterwork adds us to its charred casualties. RATING KEY iL Acting H Cinematography Direction iL Editing fa Narrative Sound Special Effects When a symbol appears loUomng a title, t implies that the corresponding category is a strength of the movie.

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