NEW YORK — 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.
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.