'Paper Wedding' unites couple with warmth and sensitivity

November 11, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"A Paper Wedding" is a real movie, small, deft and occasionally moving.

Opening today at the Charles, the film has certain similarities to Peter Weir's "Green Card," which is thus far the year's most underrated movie. The films share a common premise: an unmarried woman agrees to a marriage of convenience with an alien, a union from which both will benefit in material ways. Then they must study each other's lives in order to pass a test engineered by the unsympathetic authorities; and, thrown together, they fall in love.

"Green Card" was a comedy that brutally (and hilariously) contrasted her dreamy liberalism with his snorting, piggish conservatism, a beauty-beast dichotomy given interesting expression in the flesh by Andie MacDowell and the great Gerard Depardieu.

Michel Brault's film is, however, a beauty-beauty movie, which is to say it doesn't have a dichotomy. It's definitely set in the dreamy liberal neighborhood of the universe: It remains lyric and romantic throughout, and nowhere does it dare to see beauty in an ugly "other." It simply hasn't the guts for politically incorrect comedy but it has feelings that the coarser Weir movie never remotely approached.

The setting, however, is Canada, not good ole USA, and the movie plays in French. Genevieve Bujold plays a 39-year-old college professor living in the promised land of post-feminism -- which is to say, all by herself. Determined to become her own woman, she has instead become a lone woman. She has a beautiful home, a now-unsatisfying career and a married lover who couldn't melt butter in the tropics. Her life is the big sleep.

In a spate of political correctness, she agrees to marry a Chilean political refugee who's Canadian visa has run out and who is being hunted by the immigration police for shipment back home that almost certainly spells death.

Of course the romantic notion that makes "A Paper Marriage" moving is also the romantic notion that turns it to gibberish by any non-emotional set of standards. Like Alan Bates in "An Unmarried Woman," (and unlike Depardieu in "Green Card," a mega-oinker) Miguel Aranguiz's Pablo is a dreamy poet, kind, sensitive and caring. He brings her flowers; he knows all about wine. Moreover, he's been granted a special grace by virtue of the secret police: His back is a constellation of scar tissue.

There's never any big complication in "A Paper Wedding" -- it's strictly boy meets girl, boy gets girl. But it's so artfully done -- an orchestration of gesture and nuance, of look and nuzzle, a fleeting touch, a certain smile -- that the movie takes you inside and makes you believe.

'A Paper Wedding'

Starring Genevieve Bujold.

Directed by Michael Brault.

Released by Susan Senk Associates.

Unrated

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