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Movie Review

'Prince' Tells Tale of Love, Death and Joy

April 24, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Christine Pascal's deeply affecting "The Little Prince Said" is the kind of picture that the French, with their rigorous sensibility and affinity for children, seem to do best. Pascal's sensitivity and skill, her way with actors and sound judgment all conspire to make us feel that we've never seen this story told on the screen before, even though it's a familiar one.

At 10, Violette (Marie Kleiber) is an especially radiant and intelligent child, and her parents' divorce seems civilized. You have the feeling that in several years she'll turn into a lush beauty. But Violette, subject to headaches of rapidly escalating severity, is not going to make it, for early in the movie a neurologist colleague of her father (Richard Berry), a Lausanne medical researcher, discovers that the girl is afflicted with an inoperable brain tumor in such an advanced stage she has only months to live.

Violette's father literally drops everything, whisks his daughter off on a journey that ultimately culminates in a lovely old family villa in Provence, where they are joined by Violette's mother (Anemone), a Milan-based stage actress. Along the way there are eerie moments when the father puts his daughter through strenuous physical tests, perhaps hoping to provoke a speedy demise for her.

In Provence, however, the parents surround their daughter with love and joyfulness, and they instinctively agree that she will have the best, most painless ending possible. With much subtlety, Pascal suggests that in joining forces so effectively for the good of their daughter they may rediscover each other.

With equal parts detachment and compassion, Pascal inspires selfless portrayals from veterans Berry and Aneone, and has discovered a child of remarkable gifts with Kleiber. "The Little Prince Said" is a film of distinction and impact.

Christine Pascal was an actress of talent and beauty who appeared in six Bertrand Tavernier films and who came to international acclaim in 1975 with Michel Mitrani's memorable "Black Thursday," playing a Jewish teenager whom a young Gentile youth (Christian Rist) is trying to help escape from the Nazis. She later directed five features, with "The Little Prince Said" winning the prestigious Prix Louis Delluc award in 1992. On Aug. 30, 1996, Pascal jumped to her death from a window in a clinic on the outskirts of Paris, where she was being treated for depression. She was only 42.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film's depiction of a dying child is too intense for most youngsters.

'The Little Prince Said'

Richard Berry: Adam Lebovich

Anemone: MeMlanie

Marie Kleiber: Violette

Lucie Phan: Lucie

A Cowboy International release of a co-production of Cine-Manufacture (Lausanne) and Alia Film (Paris). Director Christine Pascal. Producer Robert Boner. Screenplay by Pascal & Boner. Cinematographer Pascal Marti. Editors Jacques Comets. Costumes Catherine Meurice. Music Bruno Coulais. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

* At the Grande 4-Plex through Thursday, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.

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