When emotion goes untamed, three movies suffer
There's a current trend in music called the ''new romanticism,'' and that label would fit some of the latest movies, too. But the swing toward traditional frameworks and unabashed emotions isn't refreshing Hollywood - it's providing an excuse for careless, unoriginal filmmaking.
Take the sad comedy called ''Irreconcilable Differences,'' with Drew Barrymore as a bright little girl who wants a divorce from her feuding parents. The first half has some honest laughs and clever lines, as an aspiring movie director (Ryan O'Neal) meets and marries a would-be writer (Shelley Long), who turns out to have more talent than he bargained for. The digs at Hollywood are sly and funny, and the main characters are as credible as they are cute.
But filmmaker Charles Shyer doesn't have enough ideas to sustain the movie. The feelings turn gooey, the relationships turn predictable, and the Barrymore character never becomes more than a cute way of gluing the plot together. The story's early promise fades away, replaced by repetitious plot twists and strained slapstick.
There's more technical sureness in ''Until September,'' although the story is so old-fashioned it's reactionary. Karen Allen plays an American stranded in Paris, friendless and alone until she meets a very handsome and very married man. He's looking for an affair, and she fends him off for a while, then caves in. It could be a rerun of Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in ''Summertime'' except for the sex scenes, which 1955 wouldn't have dreamed of.
The picture was directed by Richard Marquand, who prides himself on being people-oriented and even injected some folksy touches into ''Return of the Jedi, '' his last movie. He approaches ''Until September'' with great sincerity but little invention. The results are dull.
The vigorous moments of ''Garbo Talks'' are provided by Anne Bancroft, who carries the movie almost single-handedly. She plays a dying woman whose last wish is to meet the legendary Greta Garbo, her longtime idol. Her son, (Ron Silver), tracks the great star down, dogging her from city apartment to seaside resort, and muddling his own life - including marriage and job - in the process.
Directed by the busy Sidney Lumet, the action mingles broad comedy with aggressive poignancy, leading to a morose climax dominated by a draggy Bancroft monologue. ''Garbo Talks'' does a better job of viewing mortality through the lens of humor than the recent ''Windy City'' -another entry in the ''new romanticism'' sweepstakes - but never quite conquers its patchwork screenplay and lumpy editing. Like most of the current romances, it has more sentiment than sense. Decline of European films
One surprise in the recent New York Film Festival was a strong indication that European cinema has entered a quiet, docile phase that some would call mellow but others would label dull.
Of the many European entries, most were respectable films, capably made and dealing with substantial themes. But few managed to catch fire, either visually or dramatically. This appears to be a fallow period in European film, with no national group or movement leading the way to a more exciting future.
Even the most adventurous filmmakers seem in a cautious mood. In the past, Jacques Rivette has been as bold as they come, giving a radical new shape to cinema in visionary epics like ''Out One: Spectre'' and ''Celine and Julie Go Boating.'' His latest effort, ''Love on the Ground,'' draws on ideas he has been exploring for almost 25 years - life as theater, theater as life, and film as a meeting ground between fact and fiction. But the story runs away with the movie, blurring those concepts and avoiding their implications. It's a tantalizing picture, but rarely as involving as it could have been, despite the feisty presence of stars Geraldine Chaplin and Jane Birkin.
I also have just two cheers for Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, who have adapted Kafka's novel ''Amerika'' into a spare, stylized exercise called ''Class Relations.'' As usual, the filmmakers have social and political commentary on their minds, and toss out everything that doesn't reflect their barely hidden agenda. They also have a low budget, which forces them to omit the spectacular elements, too. The result is gorgeously photographed (by William Lubtchansky) but too glum and declamatory to recall Kafka's comic vision for more than a few moments.
If a popular hit emerges from the festival's European contingent, it could well be ''A Sunday in the Country,'' by French director Bertrand Tavernier. Stunningly photographed by Bruno de Keyzer, it details the last, sun-struck day in the life of a contented old man. Another potential crowd-pleaser from France is ''A Nos Amours,'' by Maurice Pialat, which provides some jarring insight in its account of a teen-age girl's sexual and emotional maturing.
Other entries were proper and presentable without building much excitement. ''The Holy Innocents,'' a Spanish drama by Mario Camus, uses relations between peasants and gentry as a metaphor for social manipulation. ''A Love in Germany, '' by Polish director Andzrej Wajda, explores Nazi oppression through a love story with elements of nightmarish comedy. ''A Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon ,'' by Swedish filmmaker Lennart Hjulstrom, details the sad 19th-century love affair of a brilliant female mathematician and an early male feminist.
''Diary for My Children,'' by Hungarian director Marta Meszaros, shows the confrontation between a Hungarian adolescent and her vigorously Communist aunt in the politically complex year 1946. In a somewhat similar vein, Wojciech Marczewski's drama ''Shivers'' follows a Polish boy's odyssey through a Communist youth camp in 1955, giving the story just enough visual dazzlement to make me dream of how the great director Jerzy Skolimowski would have handled it.
''Three Crowns of the Sailor,'' a busy and tricky yarn about a surreal quest, gives little boost to the growing reputation of Raoul Ruiz, a Chilean filmmaker based in Paris. ''Memoirs of Prison'' is Nelson Pereira dos Santos's long and sometimes labored account of a writer in a Brazilian penal colony. ''Camminacammina'' is a revisionist version of the tale of the Magi, featuring a cast of nonprofessional actors under the weary guidance of Italian director Ermanno Olmi, far from his peak.
In all, a mixed bag of movies, neither encouraging nor discouraging. But holding patterns rarely last long. A new sense of movement - perhaps in brave, ground-breaking directions - will surely be felt soon.