'Uranus' Among Top European Releases
NEW YORK — THE aftermath of war is always a complicated time, and the aftermath of World War II in Europe was particularly so. As the continent prepared to rebuild itself, people in many countries wrestled with the question of how to settle scores among themselves - or whether the scores shouldn't be settled but simply forgotten, so everyone could concentrate on moving to a better future instead of dwelling on a tragic past."Uranus," a new film by French director Claude Berri, likens the wartime period to the planet Uranus: cold, dark, and crushing in its horrible dead weight. Of course, the movie takes place right here on earth, where the residents of a French village are coming to terms with their actions during the Nazi occupation - when some collaborated with the Germans, others resisted as firmly as they could, and still others did their best to avoid any stand at all. Communists have gained a great deal of political power as the story begins, and some people think they're a worse threat than the Nazis ever were. The trouble is, no one is blameless - not those who cooperated with fascists, not those who feel communism is always right, and not even those who take a humanist view and merely try to help the suffering, sometimes with undesirable results. "Uranus" focuses on several residents of the little town. One is an engineer who thinks of himself as enlightened and somewhat above it all, yet agrees to shelter a Nazi collaborator who's now running from the law simply because the man is desperate and has nowhere else to turn. Another is the local teacher, whose eternal optimism - a view of life so rosy that it amazes even him - is sorely tested by current events. The most colorful character is the town's bartender, a one-time wrestler whose two great passions are alcohol and poetry. When he's not busy writing awful verses, he feuds with a communist who has falsely denounced him, and gets in trouble for revealing too many secrets about others in the village. Two other films directed by Mr. Berri not long ago, "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring," were rural romances based on novels by Marcel Pagnol, a great French filmmaker of bygone years. Memoirs by Mr. Pagnol are also the source material for "My Father's Glory" and "My Mother's Castle," films by Yves Robert that have been popular with international audiences in recent months. What's largely missing from Mr. Robert's highly nostalgic movies is exactly what Berri's films provide: a sense of the disc omforts, antagonisms, and conflicts that are unavoidable parts of life in many rural and urban settings. There's no false nostalgia or dreaminess to "Uranus," although it certainly recognizes the best as well as the worst impulses of ordinary individuals. "Uranus" has an excellent cast to play those individuals, including Gerard Depardieu as the saloon keeper, Philippe Noiret as the teacher, and Michel Blanc and Fabrice Luchini as communists who haven't learned to use their newfound power in constructive ways. Regrettably, the movie is often overacted despite the expertise these performers bring to it, as director Berri allows them to ham it up and push their portrayals too far. In other ways, too - the sometimes corny dialogue, and the neatly ironic design of the overall story - the film is not a subtle one. Yet despite its shortcomings, "Uranus" stands with the most resonant European films to play the international circuit this year. It has a strong emotional impact in scene after scene, and even its hammiest performances are often riveting. Most important, its message is worth heeding: Amid the confusions of war and the antagonisms of peace, no single outlook or philosophy can provide all the answers.