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Movie Review : Faded Version of Woman's Odyssey in 'A Winter Tan'

June 30, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS

As intellectual erotica, "Give Sorrow Words: Maryse Holder's Letters From Mexico" is compelling reading, but as "A Winter Tan" (at the Fine Arts) it is a total turn-off.

Maryse Holder was an American writer in her mid-30s who, after losing her university teaching position, went to Mexico in the late '70s on two sex-and-booze sprees and wrote long, confessional letters to her friend Edith Jones about what she was doing and what she thought about it, hoping to "wring a masterpiece from my life." In Holder's progressively self-destructive odyssey there emerges a classic confrontation between North American feminism and Mexican machismo. Never could there be a more vivid, volatile context in which to define both the brave assertions and dangerous delusions of the liberated woman. In that context Holder's fatal mistake was in making herself thoroughly vulnerable by looking for love rather than sex alone.

These thoughts arrive on the screen either not at all or, quite literally, badly muffled, for the sound track is awful. As Holder, Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs, who wrote the script and also directed the film with four others, comes across as foolish and pretentious. Even before you check the production notes you guess correctly that the film evolved from stage readings Burroughs did from Holder's letters.

Burroughs has made the same mistake Italian director Marco Ferreri made in bringing Charles Bukowski's not dissimilar "Tales of Ordinary Madness" to the screen: instead of trying to capture the flavor of Holder's writing she has lifted great sections of the letters intact, and the effect is disastrously artificial.

If all this weren't bad enough, Burroughs, best known for her Katharine Hepburn-ish turn opposite Richard Farnsworth in "The Grey Fox," seems seriously miscast. Maryse tells her first pick-up that she's 29, but even before disintegration sets in, Burroughs looks not a day under 50, scrawny and tanned to leatheriness. From the start, her Maryse is dangerously self-deluding.

"A Winter Tan's" authentic, sensuous Mexican resort locales serve only to remind us that in Maryse Holder's fate there were the makings of an "Under the Volcano." But its makers don't even set Holder's story in motion with any degree of clarity, let alone reveal any meaning in its telling. In this misbegotten film (Times-rated Mature for language, adult themes, situations) Maryse Holder emerges as that which she would have hated most: a bore.

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