Three Women and a Romance

Now for something completely different: One of the festival's popular features stars older women

It's a little-discussed but obvious fact that the movie business is not interested in women over age 40. Not only do statistics show miserable labor stats for mature actresses, but there are precious few films that target older female movie fans. This may be, as many assert, a symptom of a deeply ingrained sexism and ageism, but it's also a dandy opportunity for counterprogramming. Enter John McKay's new film, Crush, an engaging if flawed comedy-drama that features three fortysomething women and two issues -- female friendship and romance with younger men -- that should pique the interest of mature female audiences.

The story begins where it ultimately ends: at the weekly meeting of three friends who share their tales of romantic woe. Sly, catty physician Molly (Anna Chancellor) recounts her latest date disaster, while Janine, the local police inspector (Imelda Staunton), dodges romance altogether. But the worst-case scenario seems to be that of Kate (Andie MacDowell), a prim headmistress of a private school, who only seems to attract the attentions of the geeky Rev. Gerald Marsden (Bill Paterson). Kate has given up on romance, but all that is upended when she attends a funeral and encounters Jed, a hunky boy toy (Kenny Doughty), the reverend's part-time organist who happens to be a former student of hers. Sparks fly, and before the mourners have left the service, these two are at it amid the grave markers in the churchyard.

Molly and Janine celebrate Kate's newfound affair and are thrilled her life has taken such a wild romantic turn. But the supposed crush doesn't fade as Kate and the poetic, dashing Jed fall more deeply in love. Their romance turns her head -- she can't concentrate on her work and starts lying to her gal pals, pretending the fling is just a fling. But when Jed asks Kate to marry him, Molly and Janine decide something must be done to save their friend from certain heartbreak.

Talk about relationships! But instead of gabbing girls, it's women
Talk about relationships! But instead of gabbing girls, it's women
Asesinato: A document to the real effects of terror (above); Adio Kerida, and hola island: Searching for Jewish roots in Cuba
Asesinato: A document to the real effects of terror (above); Adio Kerida, and hola island: Searching for Jewish roots in Cuba

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Showing at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, February 2, at the Gusman Center.

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Up to this point Crush is a deliberately fizzy comedy, full of jokey humor and plenty of puns about organs. But McKay opts for a leaden pace and generic pop tunes that work against him. The too-pretty English countryside, the overbearingly sweet John Williams-like score, the fairy-tale country community (where everyone drives Volvos and Saabs) all tend to punch up the comedic intentions but not the intended result. The humor feels forced.

Once the pals concoct a scheme to break up the romance, however, the story takes a dark, unexpected turn that pushes the movie into something much more interesting, as each of these women begins to question her friends' motives as well as her own.

The acting ensemble is solid, but MacDowell, the star, fares least well, especially against Chancellor, who steals every scene she's in. MacDowell seems a less-than-ideal choice as a schoolmistress: She doesn't come off as brainy enough. She has carved out a career for herself playing elusive oddballs, with notable success in her breakout film, sex, lies, and videotape, as well as Four Weddings and a Funeral, which is the obvious intended model for Crush. But while she's effective in small doses, she is not when asked to carry a picture. Her acting is so simplistic, so result oriented, you know where she's going in every scene before she gets there. One wonders what Judy Davis or Helen Mirren might have done with some of the comedic set pieces early on. But MacDowell gets a lot better in the film's second half, as the story becomes very dark indeed. She's an actress who works best in silences -- in reactions, in internal emotions -- and when she's playing to these strengths, she's quite effective. As Jed, Doughty wisely takes a low-key approach to his romantic role.

McKay has a nice directorial touch, with a lively, impromptu feel in some of the group scenes, especially when the girlfriends get together. But his script shows plenty of weaknesses. The central affair is supposed to be the love of Kate's life, but this doesn't come across clearly onscreen. Several plot points seem exceptionally contrived, not the least of which is the too-pat ending. Production values are uneven, with solid if often uninspired camerawork and the typical British problem of fuzzy production sound. But much of Crush has merit, and the women-centered story line is a welcome alternative to the male bonding that's thrown up on screens most of the time.

More Portraits of Grief
In the wake of September 11, viewers in the United States will find the elegiac Asesinato en Febrero (Assassination in February) particularly poignant. Against the gorgeous backdrop of Spain's Basque country, the family and friends of politician Fernando Buesa and his bodyguard, Jorge Diez Elorza, remember their loved ones after the pair was killed in February 2000 by a car bomb planted by the ETA (a guerrilla group seeking Basque independence). Producer/scriptwriter Elias Querejeta (who has produced many of Carlos Saura's films) and television documentarian Eterio Ortega developed the script from intimate conversations with the survivors, fixing on the details of everyday life that make absence so conspicuous and then shaping those conversations into a coherent lament. Elorza's grandparents attend to their daily walks and wood chopping; a mother misses her son's dirty clothes in the laundry basket; friends worry about who will plan the next birthday party now that the group's great organizer is gone. Intercut with these intimate testimonies is the chilling account of how victims are chosen and murder is plotted, all the more sinister because of the detached delivery and fragmented framing of the terrorist. The sensual treatment of the landscape, the lingering shots of beach and dale, heighten the tragedy of lives lost to an abstract ideal. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado
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