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VIDEO DISCOVERY

No Writer's Bloc in Her 'Letter to Brezhnev'

May 09, 1991|GUILLERMO TORRES

Recession, repression--it's all the same thing, man. Cheech Marin

A young woman spends her workdays stuffing chickens in a Liverpool plant and clings to her bar-hopping ways to escape life's tedium. Her best friend is on welfare and tries desperately to leave the poverty and hopelessness that seem to turn her young friends into androids of English socialism.

"Letter to Brezhnev" is dated by its title, delivering an early 1980s attack against the economic policies that put many Britons on the dole and, in the mind of screenwriter Frank Clarke, created a democratic parallel to Soviet-style communism.

Elaine (Alexandra Pigg) and Teresa (Margi Clarke) are the heroines of "Letter," which begins as a tale of two girlfriends seeking flings and becomes a statement about failed socialism and the courage it takes to have dreams in the midst of poverty.

As soon as Teresa's workday is done, she emerges from her white coat and cap and heads to the pub or to the dance floor where she can forget her dead-end job. Elaine is the dreamer who looks around her recession-era world and longs for a meaningful life.

When the two young women meet and then lose sight of two Soviet sailors at a disco, the man-hungry Teresa shows her desperation by running in front of a bus to reclaim their newfound boyfriends. Teresa splurges on two hotel rooms--in one she makes love to her sailor, Sergi (Alfred Molina), in the other Elaine falls in love with Peter (Peter Firth).

In their encounter, Elaine and Peter find time to philosophize and trade impressions about the two countries. "In Russia," Peter says, "if you don't work, you don't eat." Elaine responds with a nervous laugh: "It's a bit like that here, too." When the two spot a married and argumentative couple walking down a street she sadly observes: "That's what happens when you give up." But giving up is not Elaine's intention.

When Peter's ship is ready to sail the following day, the two vow to meet again.

That's where a letter to Leonid Brezhnev comes in.

The Liverpudlian chatter is a bit hard on the ears, and it sometimes leaves moviegoers straining to understand the dialogue. And the movie is not without its knee-jerk reactions and quirks in dialogue. When Elaine's mother makes generalizations about Russians and communists, the young woman replies: "Why don't you get out some wool and knit yourself an iron curtain?" And when an muckraking reporter for a tabloid asks Elaine if she is a communist, she answers, "No, I'm a human being."

The movie takes an almost surrealistic tone when Brezhnev (Iggy Navarro), apparently touched by Elaine's letter, turns to his secretary and says in English: "Take a letter, Miss Jones." Miss Jones?

But Elaine's letter turns out to be a masterpiece in humility and tenderness. She writes to Brezhnev, oblivious to the politics of East and West. "I put my heart in your hand and ask only that you allow me to see Peter. . . ."

It's strong stuff, and Elaine gives romantics everywhere a lesson in courage and perseverance.

"Letter to Brezhnev" (1985), directed by Chris Bernard. 94 minutes. Rated R.

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