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Little Gems Amid All the Flashy Biggies

December 06, 1987|SHEILA BENSON

From Thanksgiving until Christmas week, we are going to be inundated with the Big Ones. Studios, which suspect--and perhaps not without foundation--that motion-picture academy voters' memories barely stretch back to Labor Day, invariably beef up the year-end with flossy star entries they hope will find their way onto nominating ballots in January.

So soon we'll have "Wall Street," "Empire of the Sun," "Broadcast News," "Moonstruck," "The Dead," "September," "Housekeeping," "Good Morning Vietnam," "Ironweed," "Batteries Not Included" and "Throw Mama From the Train." One glance at the current covers of Life and Newsweek, featuring "Ironweed's" Meryl Streep and "Moonstruck's" Cher, should give you an idea of the long-range planning that has gone into the timing of these releases.

It's hardly a new situation. But this time, the year-end rush is going to intensify one problem that's been growing all year, and fairly snowballing since September: the trick of seeing a good performance while it's still around to be seen.

You may not have noticed, but with the new multiplexes that are mushrooming everywhere, the handling of a small film, a foreign film or one that gets poorly nourished during its crucial first few days has become absolutely cutthroat.

Little newborns, which might have flourished with a little friendly word-of-mouth, are being tossed out after one week. More solidly established movies are suddenly being moved away from the bigger, more prestigious screens into dinky ones without Dolby sound--70-seat no man's lands.

I suspect that "Sullivan's Pavillion" was one of those films, not a world-beater, but one with which the right audiences would certainly have identified, and certainly a movie that might have found its audience in older, simpler days. Now you have to have your track shoes in order to catch the joy as it flies.

There is barely time between reading the reviews, which are themselves mushrooming, and the end of a week's run--and suddenly that movie you meant to see is gone. Juzo Itami's charming first film, "The Funeral," was given an indecent burial by the AMC Century 14 complex after a week. Fortunately for audiences, it was picked up over at the Goldwyn Pavilion and double-billed with Itami's lusty "Tampopo," so all was not lost--only nearly so.

In this climate of desperation, there are a few performances which deserve a red flag and immediate attention before they get moved aside to make room for some big Christmas noise like "Eddie Murphy Raw."

In "Anna," a New York-made independent film by director-emigre Yurek Bogayevicz, the American-born Sally Kirkland so completely buries herself in the character of a Czech film star that it seems odd to hear Kirkland speaking remarkably good English when one comes face to face with her off-screen. Her Anna has fallen into disfavor after the Russian takeover of Czechoslovakia and has been jailed in Prague after rowdy anti-Communist behavior. Finally allowed to leave, she has arrived in New York and is struggling to re-establish herself in a pretty apathetic city. Her director-husband, who shared her fame in Prague, has emigrated before her and abandoned her to become "more American than Americans."

I have no idea how good Kirkland's Czech sounds, but her English-accented Czech has exactly the same lilt that I have heard from Czech friends. However, an accent is only a jumping-off point. Kirkland's performance goes far beyond linguistics into the soul of a European-born woman: Her Anna combines irony, tragedy, a hair-trigger response when crossed and an enormous capacity to see the ridiculousness of life. Kirkland has the knack, in common with Anna Magnani, Jeanne Moreau or Colleen Dewhurst, of being able to look sourly plain one instant and luminously beautiful the next.

In outline, "Anna" seems to sound grimmer than it should; one of its intensely European characteristics is that it has almost criminally funny moments around the core of a serious subject. Kirkland, it must be noted, is bigger and better than the vehicle that shelters her, but you mustn't overlook the draw of the radiant Czech-born model-turned-actress, Paulina Porizkova, who is currently the cover goddess of the world, and whose gamin character shares the story with Anna. There is never a lack of something to hold your interest in "Anna."

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