Through the mind's eye: a look at fading memories

April 29, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Can any actor register melancholy better than Jason Robards? Robards can sum up the century's folly in a single, HTC crushed glance, his eyes radiating tragic knowledge, the lines in his face suggesting the trajectory of all human enterprise toward ruin and obliteration.

That look is at the core of "Reunion," now peeping gamely off the screen of a single auditorium at Golden Ring Mall's multiplex. It's a meditation of character and destiny, set (tastefully) against the largest of modern calamities. Robards plays a German-born, thoroughly Americanized Jew returning to the Stuttgart of his painful youth for the first time in 55 years. He's looking for fragments of himself.

Thus, the action of the film, except for its denouement, is set in his mind. The director, Jerry Schatzberg, manages to evoke the remoteness of memories by shooting them in desaturated color; they seem to be taking place in faded magazine photographs, where the primary colors have lost all their vigor and the sec

ondaries are edging toward sepia.

What Robards remembers is his sad, proud parents, passionate Germans who couldn't believe their country was in the process of exiling them in preparation to murdering them. And he remembers his first love: not a young woman but a young man. The love, however, is not homoerotic: It has the romantic fervor of kindred minds lighting each other up, of entering a passionate, private world, of finally, in E. M. Forster's terms, only connecting.

The screenplay is by Harold Pinter from a famous German novel by Fred Uhlman. Pinter takes up a conceit familiar from a thousand bad popular entertainments: that German culture and language be represented by English culture and language; thus the two German boys are represented, in Robards' memory, as teen-aged British aristos, speaking in ironic, epigrammatic, elliptical quips. It plays, at times, like "Brideshead Revisited Goes to the Holocaust," and lapses now and then into arty preciousness.

Schatzberg doesn't help with a visual style that's so lyrical it verges on the syrupy; he finds the most pretentious angles in his always symmetrical compositions and it appears, therefore, that most of the action takes place not in Stuttgart in 1932 but on the covers of bad rock albums.

But the two young actors -- Christien Anholt and Samuel West --are fine and eventually the director and the screenwriter regain control. The film has made us care, and we follow as Robards, in the new (or not so new Germany) tries to find out the fate of his friend. It is no surprise, but it's still powerful.



Starring Jason Robards

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg

Released by Castle Hill

Rated PG-13

** 1/2

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