(Air Date: Week Of 05/08/96)
"Of Love and Shadows" is based on an Isabel Allende novel taking place in the late 70's when Chile was under the merciless heel of General Pinochet's military regime. The book may contain a powerful statement about that era, but the film is a disorientingly schizoid blend of sporadic glimpses of torture, and corpses, and the nothing but Harlequin romance between Francisco, a photographer who's covertly fighting the regime -- played by the handsome Antonio Banderas-- and Irene, a fashion magazine journalist from the arrogant upper classes, who somehow gets her consciousness raised to that of revolutionary heroine. She's played by the beautiful Jennifer Connelly, whose accented voiceover dreamily tells us, "My life was safe, until I began to wake up." If the fairy tale element and brutal truth of this film had been juxtaposed with more bite, something powerful and moving might have emerged, but instead they neutralize each other, and we get a humdrum Gothic tale with a happy ending.
But, never mind, Banderas and Connelly look so good together-- he wears the classic revolutionary's teal workshirt with linen chinos, and, finally, as female anarchist, she settles for a soft flannel poncho, roomy enough to smuggle secret documents and hide the bandages from her gunshot wounds.
The director, Betty Kaplan, is best known for a miniseries about Simon Bolivar, directed for Venezuelan TV, and these roots show. When Irene is shot after investigating the disappearance of a peasant girl reputed to be a saint, there are hospital scenes straight out of, well, General Hospital, where Irene hovers between life and death, tubes sticking out every where, while Francisco and the Neo-Nazi, skinhead boyfriend Irene jilted, walk the floor in the waiting room. There's an unintended comic effect when the skinhead tells Francisco he can't use his military connections to protect Irene any more-- wait a minute, she's just been shot in the stomach, that's protection?
So why isn't Banderas shot? A journalist in a free-thinking, high profile family, who goes around spouting anti-establishment lines at any opportunity, he walks the mean city streets, and motorcycles the lawless country roads, unscathed, while more innocent folk are run down, shot, and disappeared. Well, someone has to protect Irene, and nurse her back to health after she's shot repeatedly in the stomach, sneak her out of the hospital under the goony noses of the military, and take her to an exclusive tourist spa at Aguas Calientes where a revolutionary couple can catch their breath and get a massage, before the ordeal of escaping Chile on horseback, with the snow-capped Andes and a technicolor sunset as backdrop. There's a subliminal suggestion of the Trapp Family songfully trekking over the Alps to escape Nazi Austria.
At last we get the answer to the question: Why does evil exist in the world? So that beautiful, priveleged, but sensitive women who work for fashion magazines can be made to see the error of their frivolous ways, experience the dark night of the soul without mascara, and find true love. Thanks for the message.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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