Old-fashioned stories stay in vogue -- and an epic 'home movie'

Old-fashioned movies are in vogue. Such huge hits as ''An Officer and a Gentleman'' and ''E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'' are tailored from ancient Hollywood cloth in many ways, despite nods to dubious current trends.

Most old-fashioned of all is Five Days One Summer, the new romance from Fred Zinnemann, whose works include ''High Noon'' and ''From Here to Eternity.'' Though the story rests on a love affair that's illicit in more ways than one, it's a solid and honest picture, filmed with taste and restraint. There isn't a flashy or frivolous moment in it - just firm craftsmanship and earnest storytelling of a type that's rarely found on the screen nowadays. The final resolution is sad, but moral in the traditional sense.

The year is 1932. Sean Connery plays a middle-aged Scottish doctor who, to all appearances, is enjoying a happy vacation in the Swiss Alps with his young wife. Gradually, with the help of flashbacks, we learn of stresses and secrets in their seemingly normal relationship. Meanwhile we watch their holiday, complete with magnificent Swiss scenery and mountain-climbing scenes that will take your breath away - especially if you're like me, and get dizzy at the mere thought of a balcony seat in your local movie house.

What makes the picture special is its muted atmosphere, its way of concentrating on the human dimensions of the plot without slipping into pathos, sensationalism, or even melodrama. Zinnemann's career has been uneven, but he seems to have arrived at a point of meditative calm, even serenity, in his storytelling approach. For a thriller, with character conflicts in dangerous situations, ''Five Days One Summer'' is uncommonly refined. For a memory-movie steeped in nostalgia and melancholy dreams, it's notably direct and unsentimental.

Plaudits go not only to Zinnemann but to Giuseppe Rotunno for his crystal-clear cinematography - veering close to post-card prettiness without quite succumbing - and Elmer Bernstein for workmanlike music that knows when not to intrude. And a special bravo for Sean Connery, whose underplayed performance almost upstages the Alps themselves. No leading man has aged so gracefully since Cary Grant. It's a pleasure to encounter his unassuming charm in a role that fully deserves it. Filming family and friends

About a dozen years ago, Boston filmmaker Ed Pincus was smitten with a new technology - a combination of 16-mm camera and compact tape recorder that could turn anybody into a one-person movie crew.

Thus armed, Pincus set out to make a brand-new kind of film. For months on end, he shot his family and friends, occasionally handing them the camera so he could be in the picture, too. After five years, he had 16,000 feet of color footage in his pocket, running about 27 hours. He let this ''mellow in the cans for a few years,'' then began the laborious process of editing it down to a mere 200 minutes.

The result, called Diaries (1971-1976), is an intimate epic. True to Pincus's intent, it's more personal and credible than most ''real life'' movies because it was shot by a single person - who happened to be the husband, father, or pal of everybody in it.

There's a real fascination in watching its gentle chronicle of a half-decade, reflecting the introspectiveness and emotional sincerity of its period, as well as the loose language, sexual openness, and casual nudity that were fashionable in some quarters. It's as much a historical document as a record of one man's family and social life.

Yet its very intimacy becomes a strike against it. Pincus not only takes the long view; he takes the narrow view, as well. His film is as wrapped up in ''self'' as the characters who interminably dissect their own psyches, probe their own motivations, and get in touch with feelings that really don't need getting in touch with.

Pincus embarked on his ''Diaries'' after becoming disillusioned with standard documentaries and their ''peculiar distance between filmmaker and subject.'' In diminishing that distance, his own film loses perspective, variety, and irony it could have used. It never quite matches the special qualities of the most outstanding autobiographies on film - the visual originality of Andrew Noren's, the dry wit of Ralph Arlyck's, the density and scope of Stan Brakhage's, to name a few examples.

On another count, though, Pincus has accomplished all one could ask. As a reflection of his own personality - a film that mirrors ''a single sensibility and vision'' with no crew or technicians to get in the way - ''Diaries'' is remarkably successful. When its last images float across the screen, you feel you've gotten to know someone over the past 31/2 hours. You may like him, you may feel wary, you may be simply bored. But you've confronted a filmmaker on his own turf, seen his all, and had plenty of time to think it over. That's more than many movies give us - ''personal'' ones included - in this age of oversize, hyperactive cinema.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.