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Shining Spirituality In Olmi Film

April 01, 1985

There couldn't be a more glorious Easter present than Ermanno Olmi's "Camminacammina," which in English means "Keep Walking, Keep Walking." The film is a wondrous, imaginative and jolting envisioning of the journey of the Magi, who followed that star to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Alas, "Camminacammina," completed in 1983 after three years' work, plays at the Nuart Tuesday through Thursday only.

A work of primitive grandeur that transports us to a remote time and place, it is a film of rare and shining spirituality from the prodigiously gifted maker of "The Tree of Wooden Clogs." It begins with the astrologer-priest Mel (Alberto Fumagalli, a non-professional like the rest of the cast) sighting the special star and leading his scraggly band of pilgrims on their long, arduous journey to pay tribute to the Saviour, who they believe will bring justice to their lives. Along the way they will cross paths and join the other two Magi and their followers.

Every step of their treacherous trek represents a testing of their faith, but Olmi relieves its hardships and dangers with touches of gentle, earthy humor (as when the three Magi worry about the proper protocol upon greeting a governor through whose province they are passing). An earlier sequence, when Mel and his people risk passing over a rickety bridge silhouetted in a sunset, is as beautiful as it is suspenseful.

What sets the carefully subtitled, 150-minute "Camminacammina" apart from other films on the birth of Christ is Olmi's stunning interpretation.

First, he suggests that the Magi's belief that this newborn babe in a manger is in fact the Christ child must be a matter of faith--no shining halos here. Olmi's great coup is to evoke this transcendent moment only to show it instantly shattered by paranoia, cowardice and greed. He has succeeded in making the most familiar story of them all shockingly fresh. His superb, awe-inspiring film dramatizes his belief that "God did not send his Son to earth so churches would be built. He was sent to ask us to become children once more, innocent children, full of curiosity, capable of wonder, in love with an ideal of life."

One pleasure of that dazzling theatrical experiment "Tamara" is Marilyn Lightstone's chatelaine of Il Vittoriale, the home of libertine-poet Gabriele d'Annunzio. Equally impressive in a radically different role. Lightstone stars in "The Tin Flute" ("Bonheur d'Occasion"), which launches New Quebec Cinema, a series of four 7:30 p.m. Thursday programs at UCLA's Melnitz Theater.

She plays a loving, careworn French-Canadian wife and mother, married to a sweet but infuriatingly weak man (Michel Forget), who keeps her pregnant but who can't keep a job. Although unable to feed their existing children, there's a ninth on the way.

The focus of this leisurely but engaging film, directed by Claude Fournier from Gabrielle Roy's 1948 novel, is Lightstone's pretty eldest daughter (Mireille Deyglun), a waitress at a Montreal dime-store soda fountain who is longing to escape poverty. Naive and romantic, she foolishly leads on an ambitious, handsome devil (Pierre Chagnon), compromising her life before she's really had a chance to start living it.

One of the most impeccable re-creations of the '40s ever filmed, "The Tin Flute" is nostalgia at its most bittersweet. Intentionally or not, it also makes the strongest case imaginable for birth control.

In case you missed either or both of talented Australian director Paul Cox's "Lonely Hearts" and "Man of Flowers," they're playing Wednesday and Thursday only at the New Beverly Cinema on Beverly Boulevard near La Brea Avenue. The first--and more conventional--of the films is about a couple (Norman Kaye and Wendy Hughes) who meet through a dating service; the second stars Kaye as an endearingly eccentric sybarite, and explores the connections between sex, beauty and art.

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