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Love Becomes the 'Talk' of the Town

October 14, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Argentine filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg's "I Don't Want to Talk About It," a fable of unexpected love and its equally unpredictable consequences, unfolds with the subtlety and irony of an Isak Dinesen tale. A beautiful, leisurely period piece set in a small South American town in the '30s, it begins as a droll, engrossing story that builds to a stunning, utterly surprising climax that adds yet another layer of meaning to an already illuminating revelation of character.

In an idyllic, ancient town, Leonor (Luisina Brando) is the community's most dominant personality; a beautiful, well-off widow who's confronted with the truth that her daughter will be a dwarf. Once she has worked out her rage and pain, she becomes determined that her Charlotte (Alejandra Podesta) will be happy and accomplished. Bemberg and her co-writer Jorge Goldenberg, in adapting a short story by Julio Illinas, find considerable humor in the sheer imperiousness Leonor exerts over everyone to ensure that Charlotte's diminutive size is never mentioned in her daughter's presence.

By the time Marcello Mastroianni's Ludovico, an elegant, slightly mysterious, endlessly charming man of the world arrives in the community, Charlotte is 15 and an outstanding scholar and a skilled pianist. The formidable Leonor warms enough to Ludovico to ask him the favor of selecting a horse for her daughter's birthday. All it takes is a glimpse of Charlotte, who is already the only educated person with whom Ludovico can converse, riding her new horse to make Ludovico feel transfixed by love.

Bemberg brings to the working out of this astonishing development the same detached humor and compassion with which she views Leonor's zealously protective mother, but she has much more in mind than a tale of the transforming power of love. She goes on to suggest that love cannot be enough if there's a failure to acknowledge that which makes an individual different from others.

It is impossible to imagine anyone but Mastroianni, with his legendary savoir-faire, in the role of Ludovico. Even as he grows older, Mastroianni remains the eternal Casanova/Don Juan-like object of desire; in playing Ludovico, he reminds us that it rarely occurs to us to consider what a lady-killer may really need or be attracted to in a woman. Brando brings a moving heroic, even noble, quality to the frequently unintentionally humorous yet finally tragic Leonor. From start to finish Podesta's Charlotte rightly remains a smiling enigma.

When Maria Luisa Bemberg dedicates "this tale to all people who have the courage to be different in order to be themselves," she in effect is speaking more of herself than anyone in her film. At 56 in 1981, Bemberg made her directorial debut and accrued international acclaim with the romantic tragedy "Camila" in 1984. With "I Don't Want to Talk About It" and the superb but unreleased "I, the Worst of All," starring Assumpta Serna as a brilliant 16th-Century Mexican nun, Bemberg has come fully into her own as a screen artist.

* MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material. Times guidelines: It contains several mild bordello scenes.

'I Don't Want to Talk About It'

(De Eso No Se Habla)

Marcello Mastroianni: Ludovico D'Andrea

Luisina Brando: Leonor

Alejandra Podesta: Charlotte

A Sony Pictures Classics release. Director Maria Luisa Bemberg. Producer Oscar Kramer. Screenplay by Bemberg, Jorge Goldenberg, with dialogue by Goldenberg; based on a short story by Julio Illinas. Cinematographer Felix Monti. Editor Julian Carlos Macia. Costumes Graciela Galaan, Music Nicola Piovani. Art director Jorge Sarudiansky. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

* In limited release at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles; the Esquire in Pasadena and the Edwards South Coast Village in Costa Mesa.

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