AVALON'' IS Barry Levinson from the heart. Based on the writer-director's remembrance of his Baltimore childhood and the people who helped make it so rich, the new movie, done on locations in Baltimore and vicinity, is a heartfelt, lovely, sentimental (and that's not a dirty word) recall of Levinson's parents, his grandfather and assorted relatives.
The film should appeal to all, even those who don't know the immigrant experience, those far removed from it. Those who do know it, however, will probably enjoy the film that much more.
The Levinson saga spans four generations, going back in flashback to the great-grandfather that ''Michael'' never knew.
Sam Krichinsky, grandfather to Michael, who, ,24l we must assume, is Levinson, was one of five brothers who came to this country, the land where the streets were paved with gold.
Sam's introduction to this city is a lighted harbor, with fireworks in the background. You remember the fireworks incident? The people (some) of Fells Point were disturbed by the fact that Levinson and his crew were igniting those fireworks in the late of the night and the small hours of the morning. You can't help but think of this when you see the film, but this is the only discordant note the movie is going to strike.
Baltimore and its environs have never looked better, never treated more lovingly than they do in this production.
The flashback portions are accompanied by piano tunes (done by Randy Newman) that are usually appropriate to the time, and much of this flashback footage is done slow motion to that music.
You can't help but like the film, and it isn't only because of the bTC locale and the photography. It's the people, too. They are a grand lot, hard working, grateful to be here and always mindful of the fact that family life is of extreme importance.
As the film moves along, as succeeding generations take firmer hold, become a more integral part of the American scene, the family ties begin to loosen. Married children, with children of their own, want homes of their own. They no longer want to live with their parents. One character, a brother to Michael's mother, leaves Baltimore shortly after he arrives here, after having been freed from a concentration camp. Later, he is too busy to attend the funeral of a close relative.
Family is what ''Avalon'' is all about, family, love and tradition as seen through the eyes of a little boy whose grandfather is the light of his life. Much of the family business is humorous.
Levinson uses tunes that don't always match the era, but that's quibbling. What the man wanted to do was share his life experience with a broader audience, and we thank him for that. You might say that the director-writer spends more time than necessary on certain incidents in his life, incidents that are precious to him but don't contribute that much to the larger picture, but these moments are few.
Largely, ''Avalon'' pleases, the way a warm sweet film is meant to please, and the performers are superb. Aidan Quinn is father to Michael, Elizabeth Perkins is Michael's mother, Joan Plowright is the grandmother, and Armin Mueller-Stahl is the grandfather. And of course, there is Michael, who is played by Elijah Wood. Excellent work from all.
Some will charge that Levinson is making too much use of his rose-colored glasses while viewing his past. Indeed, the only sign that the rose garden has its thorns is the scene in which two cousins, business partners, announce that they have Anglicized their Russian names.
It is, however, nice to think that some immigrant experiences can be as lovely, as relatively untroubled, as this one was.
Levinson, who has become one of Hollywood's biggest names, ends the film with a sequence in which Michael and his son visit Michael's grandfather at a rest home (College Manor in Lutherville). There is no word about the work Michael is doing, the career he has chosen. Maybe Levinson is saving that for another film, perhaps ''Avalon II.'' It wouldn't be a bad idea.
Baltimoreans will enjoy recognizing the locales, among them, the Owl Bar, the Oregon Pool, the Senator Theater, the Greenspring Inn and the Washington Monument. You'll be nudging your partner through much of the film, but that should only add to your enjoyment of it.
, ''Avalon'' opens here today.
**** The experiences of an immigrant family in Baltimore.
CAST: Leo Fuchs, Lou Jacobi, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Elizabeth Perkins, Joan Plowright, Kevin Pollack, Aidan Quinn, Elijah Wood
DIRECTOR: Barry Levinson
RUNNING TIME 126 minutes
RATING: PG (language)