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'Knocks at My Door': Bleak Drama of Conscience


One of the timeless principles of viable drama is that the audience must be able to perceive universal implications within a specific situation in order to identify with it. Filmmakers eliminate the specifics at their peril, but that is precisely what Venezuelan director Alejandro Saderman and writer Juan Carlos Gene have done with "Knocks at My Door," which begins a one-week run today at the Grande 4-Plex as part of its "Cine Latino" series.

"Set in a small Latin American border town in political turmoil" doesn't really cut it as an explanation for the setting. If we're going to sit through a relentlessly bleak film that quite obviously is only going to get bleaker before it's over, we need to know its locale--or why bother?

Ceaselessly turbulent Latin American political history overflows with tragedy, so what's the point of inventing a fictional situation in an undesignated country?

One of the best examples of how to make the Latin American political drama a riveting experience is the 1985 Oscar winner "The Official Story," which spun an engrossing tale out of the terrible plight of the desaparecidos and their families during Argentina's military regime.

Apart from its vagueness and depressing effect, "Knocks at My Door," Venezuela's official Oscar entry for 1993, has been made with skill and eloquence. A supporting character helpfully, if rather baldly, protests the "foreign invaders" who would "liberate" the "government of the poor people." A young member of the country's rebel forces (Frank Spano), fleeing for his life, seeks shelter in the home of two nuns for whom the prospect of martyrdom, caught between the forces of church and state, becomes immediately clear to us.

"Knocks at My Door" was adapted from Gene's play, and you can imagine it as more congenial material for the stage as a drama of conscience--in the manner of "A Man for All Seasons"--than it is for the screen.

With a worn, gaunt look, Veronica Oddo has a quiet power and authority as the older and far stronger of the two nuns. Jose Antonio Rodriguez is forceful as the local monsignor, a man who reflects that he's probably too important to be eliminated yet not powerful enough to help his people.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: It has scenes of political-military violence and is too intense for children.


'Knocks at My Door'

Veronica Oddo: Sister Ana

Elba Escobar: Sister Ursula

Juan Carlos Gene: Mayor

Jose Antonio Rodriguez: Monsignor

An International Film Circuit release of a co-production of Alejandro Saderman Producciones, Productora Cinematografica ICAIC (Cuba) in association with Channel 4 Television (U.K.). Producer-director Alejandro Saderman. Executive producer Antonio Llerandi. Screenplay by Juan Carlos Gene. Cinematographer Adriano Moreno. Editor Claudia Uribe. Music Julio d'Escrivan. Art director Marietta Perroni. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Grande 4-Plex for one week, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.

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