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September 02

Between Strangers
Sam North reviews Edoardo Ponti's first film
A sensitive, captivating little movie that deserves a wider audience. Seek it out.

Between Strangers

Writer/Director Edoardo Ponti ,
stars Klaus Maria Brandauer,
Gerard Depardieu, Sophia Loren,
Malcolm McDowell, Peter Postlewaite,
Mira Sorvino, Deborah Kara Unger,
Music Zbigniew Preisner,
Director of Photography Gregory Middleton
In the early nineties one of the most talented European film directors died somewhere near the zenith of his fame, his last film nominated for an Oscar and winning kudos at the box office. The film was Three Colours Red, which handily followed Three Colours Blue and White and in my own opinion his best film, The Double Life of Veronique. That man was Kristof Kieslowski and he is still much missed. Recently an attempt has been made to finish work started by him and the film 'Heaven' starring: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi by Director Tom Tykwer is due this October in Canada. The heartbeat of a Kieslowski film is always the music of Zbigniew Priesner and you know that if his music is backing a film then it will be at the very least interesting.
It comes then as no surprise that in Mr Edoardo Ponti’s first film as director (starring his mother Sophia Loren, no less) we have an avid student of Kieslowski here. Entitled Between Strangers it’s a tall order making a ‘Polish’ film as your first and running in the steps of a master at that. All the nuances of Kieslowski and Priesner’s films together are here. Interconnecting strangers who seem to be living parallel lives and just miss each other, haunting music themes and eerie appearances of a child that seems to presage pain or impending doom. It’s a recipe book cinema and to add an extra ingredient, it is shot in Canada in Toronto, actually using a Canadian location for once and naming it. Toronto really does exist although most people probably think it is New York or Boston or LA from all its other appearances in American films.

The curious thing is, the film works well and is enjoyable. There are jarring moments. Peter Postlewaites ‘Joe’ a former runner, now crippled, husband to the aged Sophia Loren whom he treats with contempt. I am not sure why she stays with him or why he can’t see the obvious talent she has when she begins to draw her dreams. His indifference is too harsh to make us believe that Sophia would stay with him for thirty years; unless it is, as he suggests, self-inflicted punishment for her guilt. Sophia herself is a talented soul trapped inside a prison of a life. A bad marriage, an awful job, and dreams that awaken something she has kept secret all her life. It’s a difficult role and she is aided in it by Gerard Depardieu who unaccountably is the gardener in the local park. Clearly Toronto has more interesting park keepers than out west and but it is always a pleasure to see him, even in such a small role.

Malcolm Macdowell makes a rare appearance as a murderer let out of jail after 22 years to be confronted by yobs on the street and his famous muscian daughter,played by the talented Deborah Unger, who wants to kill him – taking belated revenge for the death of her mother at his hands.

Mira Sorvino is the third strand in this story (so we are getting Red, White and Blue all in one film after all). She is a Time magazine photo-journalist coming to terms with the horror of what she has scene in battle scarred Angola and a profession that profits from it. All three women are haunted by regret, recriminations and are at a turning point in their lives.

Ponti juggles the three strands with skill, the performances from everyone are solid and the magic realism, empathy and spiritual themes are delicately handled without hammering the point home. Standout sequences are when Mira Sorvino’s character studies her contact prints from her recent Angola trip, realising that she could have saved a child’s life. Sophia Loren enjoying her role as the oppressed, repressed woman is slowly transformed by the realisation that her long abandoned child lives and has a name. Her dreams are made real.

It’s a curious thing that draws you to a film. Priesner’s name attracted me whilst staring at the poster and knowing nothing about the film whatsoever made me go in. The very same thing happened to me when viewing my first Kieslowski film. Although I have to get used to seeing a Kieslowski film in English, set in Canada, Mr Ponti’s aspirations are good ones and I for one will be interested to see what he comes up next.

Between Strangers is a sensitive, captivating little movie that deserves a wider audience. Seek it out.

Heaven with the screenplay by Kieslowski is due in Vancouver this Fall.

© Sam North Ocotber 7th 2002

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