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'Desire' A Stylish Blend Of Europe And America

May 12, 1986|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

"Desire" (1936) represents Hollywood at its timeless, beloved best. A stunning blend of European and American sensibilities--Marlene Dietrich and producer Ernst Lubitsch on the one hand, Gary Cooper and director Frank Borzage on the other--it is the epitome of glittery escapist entertainment. Yet the emotional honesty at its core gives it a reality that is deeply involving.

Dietrich and Cooper are at the height of their movie-star glamour. Ablaze in diamonds, furs, feathers and superbly sculptured gowns, Dietrich is an elegant jewel thief who crosses paths in Spain with the impeccably tailored Cooper, a square-shooting Detroit engineer on vacation. Dietrich's wry, continental sophistication and Cooper's brash, open charm create terrific chemistry as the sly, sexy Lubitsch touch gradually gives way to Borzage's redemptive romanticism. The result is a classic by any measure.

"Desire," which screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at UCLA Melnitz in the Borzage series, is preceded at 5:30 with the lesser-known "Living on Velvet" (1936) and followed by another major Borzage film, "History Is Made at Night" (1936).

Top Parisian maitre d' Charles Boyer goes to extreme lengths to pursue his unrequited love for Jean Arthur, a Kansan whose rich, intensely jealous husband (Colin Clive, of "Frankenstein" fame) is determined to quash their divorce on the eve that it's to become final. The myriad obstacles Boyer must overcome make the film alternately somber, hilarious, heart-wrenching and melodramatic, yet Borzage easily manages an ever-shifting tone. Information: (213) 825-2581.

Winnie Mandela is such a beautiful, serene woman that only when she starts talking about her life do we realize fully that for the last 30 years it has been an unending ordeal, a cruel, constant test of the spirit that in the end has strengthened her.

No news account about Winnie Mandela or her husband, Nelson Mandela, imprisoned since 1962 for his leadership in the struggle against South Africa's apartheid policies, could match hearing her tell her own story in "Winnie/Nelson." It was made by documentary film-maker Peter Davis, whose "Hearts and Minds," a critical study of the Vietnam War, won a 1974 Oscar.

As brutal newsreel footage becomes counterpoint to her words, Winnie Mandela says that she's been imprisoned so many times she's lost count. She has survived torture, interminable separation--not only from her husband but also from her children--and endured house arrest and the firebombing of her home to emerge as an indomitable fighter for the freedom of her people. This fine, urgent film leaves us wondering how much worse Nelson Mandela's experiences must be.

"Winnie/Nelson" screens Tuesday only at the Nuart as part of "Human Rights in South Africa" series; playing with it is "Woza, Albert!" ("Rise Up, Albert!"), a documentary about the talented and courageous actors Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngena, with generous sections from their alternately satirical and poignant play of the same name dealing with the black experience under apartheid. Information: (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.

The Kokusai Theater's Japanese Best Directors Film Festival concludes with Masaki Kobayashi's awesome and enthralling "Kwaidan," a quartet of Lafcadio Hearn tales of the supernatural, which plays tonight through Wednesday. Information: (213) 734-1148.

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