Politics Star in Movies en Route to US

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

If a significant trend emerged from the impressive lineup of international movies at the Vancouver filmfest, including pictures on their way to United States screens, it was a growing interest in political themes. Many of the stories took war or other forms of violence as their subject, viewing them from a largely peace-loving perspective.

Regeneration stars Jonathan Pryce as a World War I military doctor who treats two gifted British poets - Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon - for mental distress related to the horrors of combat. The movie focuses on the power of art to regenerate the human spirit, as when the shellshocked Owen uses poetry as a route to recovery; and the power of conscience to rouse compassion, as when Sassoon refuses to continue in a war he has learned to despise. Brilliant performances and superb directing by Gillies MacKinnon make the film a fitting inheritor of the life-affirming energy that motivated these "trench poets" during their often-agonized careers.

Four Days in September, a Miramax release, tells the fact-based tale of Brazilian revolutionaries who kidnap an American ambassador and threaten to kill him if their comrades aren't released from prison. Directed by Bruno Barreto, the movie makes a rather weak attack on the police-state government that drives the terrorists to their actions. But it calls attention to an instructive episode in Latin America's history through strong performances by Alan Arkin and others.

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La Plante humaine, made by animator Pierre Hbert for the National Film Board of Canada, explores the life of a retired man assaulted by media images - of the Persian Gulf War and other disasters - that he can't control or escape. It Happened Here, a 1966 drama to be reissued shortly, etches a documentary-style picture of how England would have fared if the Nazis had won.

Other movies took other roads to social awareness. Public Housing, by documentary master Frederick Wiseman, looks at a problem-plagued Chicago community. Red Hollywood shows how political messages have cropped up in popular movies.

Seeking an upbeat note for its celebratory gala, the festival reached a high point with the hugely popular Love and Death on Long Island, about an aging English author obsessed with a young movie star. Written and directed by Richard Kwietniowski, this inventive comedy should make John Hurt next year's first Oscar contender when it hits US theaters in early 1998.

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