SUNDAY (R) (92 min.) _ A fascinating premise eventually gets overshadowed by the intrusion of even better dramatic intentions, in this best-film and best-screenplay prizewinner from this year's Sundance Film Festival. The buzz around the industry was that last spring's festival circuit was a letdown from years past; the acclaim awarded to Jonathan Nossiter's film goes a long way to prove it.
The film takes place during another Sunday in the Queens burrough of New York City, where a strangely quiet man (David Suchet) lives in a halfway house with other homeless men. He's known to his roommates as Oliver, but the audience will soon wonder if that's true.
Oliver meets a nervous actor named Madeleine (Lisa Harrow), who is convinced that he's a famous film director for whom she once auditioned. The mistaken identity grows deeper, as Madeleine continually ignores the tell-tale hints that Oliver isn't the man she believes. Nossiter's script combines the willingness of Madeleine to make contact with an idol, with Oliver's desperation to make contact with anybody.
The problem is that the film revisits this charade so often, in so few original ways. Oliver lies, and Madeleine believes him, even filling in some of the blanks in his story. We're given hints that Madeleine sees through the lie, yet the character rarely protests or displays any reasons she would stay silent. While these two characters wilt in artful symbolism, Nossiter locates several peripheral characters who capture our attention.
Chief among these is a guy named Jimmy Broadway, apparently playing himself, as the manager of that halfway house. His no-nonsense attitude barely disguises his devotion to these mangy lives, and the scenes in which the tenants balk at his good intentions suggest the sort of film that could spring from that idea. Suchet commands the screen with his monotone, stripped of any inflection by the troubles Oliver has endured. Harrow plays her one dramatic note well, but we're left with as many questions about Madeleine as we had at first sight.
Sunday opens today at Tampa Theatre and Beach Theater. B
PONETTE (Not rated) (92 min.) _ A spectacular performance by 4-year-old Victoire Thivisol is the primary draw for moviegoers to this bleakly intriguing French drama. Thivisol plays the title character, a kindergartener whose mother is killed in an auto accident. Her father's attempts to console her are well-intended failures, and Ponette is sent to live with her aunt.
Writer-director Jacques Doillon uses this scenario to explore the finality of death and how to convey that to a child who won't believe it. Fantasy "conversations" between Ponette and her deceased mother (Marie Trintignant) heighten the tension as we watch an innocent little girl learn more about tragedy than any child should endure. Much of that insight (for the audience, at least) comes from the wide-eyed innocence of Ponette's classmates, who counsel her with their own learned attitudes.
Ponette has the pedestrian pacing and internalized drama that make French films so enthralling for some viewers and so maddening for others. The quality that either side can appreciate is the completely unaffected performance by Thivisol, whose unadorned portrayal puts any American child star to shame. This isn't mere gimmick casting; Thivisol displays the intuitive nature and pinpoint timing that escapes more mature actors for their entire careers.
Opens today at Countryside 6 in Clearwater. B+
THE FULL MONTY (R) (96 min.) _ "Going the full monty" is British slang for taking a situation to an extreme, in general, and stripping to a state of total nudity in particular.
Desperate times call for such desperate measures for feisty Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and his mates at the unemployment office. Twenty-five years ago, their hometown of Sheffield was a booming steel town with thousands of jobs. Technological advances and personal crises have tossed these guys on the scrap heap.
The notion of six out-of-shape men on the dole resorting to exotic dancing is amusing, but that wouldn't carry any ordinary movie beyond a few scenes of clumsy footwork.
Instead, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy uses that idea to frame a touching father-son relationship, two interesting marital crises, an impromptu romance and one giddy, deluded throwback to the '60s who can't keep up with this frisky disco beat.
Held over at Beach Theater and other selected theaters around Tampa Bay. A
MONDO PLYMPTON (Not rated) (80 min.) _ A collection of animated short subjects by Bill Plympton, whose style is to take an ordinary occurance _ a kiss, or plucking a nose hair, for example _ and spin it into a fantastic series of free-form insanity. Tonight, Saturday only at 10 p.m. at Tampa Theatre.
KAMA SUTRA: THE BOOK OF LOVE (R) (100 min.) _ Filmmaker Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) tackled the book long believed to be unfilmable, and created an exotic screen ornament that isn't as drenched in sexuality as you might think. Rather than focusing upon the carnal techniques spelled out in the book, Nair concentrates on the sexual and class competition between a servant (Sarita Choudbury) and her mistress (Indira Varma). Both use the secrets of pleasure to their own ends, with varying results. Late shows tonight and Saturday at Beach Theater. _ STEVE PERSALL