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A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries

Review by Gregory Avery
Posted 30 October 1998

  Directed by James Ivory.

Starring Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey,
Leelee Sobieski, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Ruth Costanzo,
Dominique Blanc, Macha Meril, Virginie Ledoyen,
Harley Cross and Jane Birkin.

Screenplay by James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala,
from the novel by Kaylie Jones.

I suppose that nowadays you have to take class, in movies, where you can get it. James Ivory's film, which he and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala adapted from a novel by Kaylie Jones (daughter of the novelist James Jones), has taste, style, consideration, even savoir-faire -- and is almost completely boring.

In a big, beautiful apartment in Paris in the 1960s, Chann (Leelee Sobieski) is brought up by her parents, a rugged, but caring, expatriate American novelist (Kris Kristofferson) and a spirited, zaftig mother (Barbara Hershey). Everyone is nice to Chann, including the household maid (Dominique Blanc), her adopted half-brother (Jesse Bradford), the headmistress at her school (Macha Meril), her eccentric young friend (Anthony Ruth Costanzo, in a very ingratiating performance) who's mad about opera and confesses to being in love with her "a little bit", even, after they relocate back to the States, her high school boyfriend (Harley Cross). About the worst that happens to her when her father gives her a talking-to about how forging people's names is a bad idea. Later, when he asks if Chann and her boyfriend are "sleeping together", he tells them to do it in the house, so as to save the upholstery in the car.

Ivory has done two excellent adaptations of E.M. Forster (A Room With a View and Howards End) and one of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. But he has a persistent problem with taking all the potential conflict and darker intonations in his story material and ironing them all out. The main actresses in his films can sometimes also be reduced to bland, chirrupy, irritating little things. When Leelee Sobieski first appears, with a round, bland face staring into nowhere, I thought she was going to be put through the same treatment. But Sobieski rises to the occasion, and ends up informing her performance with warmth and inspiration.

The picture is worth taking a look at for two things: a "modern" staging of Richard Strauss' opera Salome, with inflatable furniture, a Salome dressed in black net stockings and vinyl, and a Herodias who casually sniffs cocaine and shoots-up on-stage; and the dead-on recreation of what it was like to go to high school in the U.S. in the Seventies, with its air of limpid disaffection, its knit and synthetic fabric clothes, and girls gazing at you with faces framed by long, blond, Herbal Essenced tresses.

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