"Of Love and Shadows" is the right story told the wrong way. Based on Isabel Allende's novel, it is an old-fashioned adventure-romance that lays bare the human rights atrocities committed in Chile under the Pinochet military regime.
It is yet another of those international co-productions in which the stars speak English in ill-matched accents and the supporting players are dubbed into English, giving the movie an instant and deadly synthetic quality. Will filmmakers, especially those who are socially conscious, ever learn? The audience that will come out for a film on Pinochet's Chile is by and large an audience that will sit still for subtitles.
"Of Love and Shadows" suffers cruelly in comparison with the dynamic revolutionary Chilean cinema that flourished under the brief rule of Isabel Allende's uncle, Salvador Allende.
Whereas Donald Freed's script is structured well enough, it has dialogue that tends to the colorless, the curse of such productions. In any event, it is way beyond the abilities of Venezuelan director Betty Kaplan, who displays no style to speak of, to make this 1994 production come alive. Perversely, the film provides Antonio Banderas with one of his best, most serious, roles and he brings to it a concentration and passion that speaks volumes for his talent and professionalism. He suggests what the film might have been under more fortuitous circumstances.
A miscast Jennifer Connelly, as much over her head as her director, stars as a sheltered aristocrat whose political and romantic awakening occurs when she meets Banderas' photojournalist, actually a daring member of the resistance in which Connelly becomes a brave heroine. Banderas and a few other actors have some good moments, but on the whole "Of Love and Shadows" is as terrible as it is well-meaning.
* MPAA rating: R, for a scene of strong sexuality, and for some violence. The film is too brutal for children and there is a candid scene of lovemaking.
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'Of Love and Shadows'
Jennifer Connelly: Irene
Antonio Banderas: Francisco
Stefania Sandrelli: Beatriz
Camilo Gallardo: Gustavo
A Miramax presentation. Director Betty Kaplan. Producers Richard Goodwin, Kaplan, Paul F. Mayersohn. Executive producers Ernst Goldschmidt, Isidro Miguel, Herve Hachuel. Screenplay by Donald Freed; based on the book by Isabel Allende. Cinematographer Felix Monti. Editors Kathryn Himoff, Bill Butler. Costumes Beatriz de Benedetto. Music Jose Nieto. Production design Abel Faccello. Art director Graciela Oderigo.. Set decorator Dolores Ezcurra. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.