'Sunday' is compelling because it's full of lies

October 03, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Lies are a lousy thing on which to base a relationship, much less a life.

That's why the characters of Jonathan Nossiter's "Sunday," the FTC grand-jury-prize winner at the 1997 Sundance Festival, are doomed from the start.

It's also why the film they inhabit is so compellingly labyrinthine, so endlessly intriguing and so ultimately frustrating. Labyrinthine, because the lies and fabrications are piled on so thickly that you won't know who -- or what -- to believe. Intriguing because that uncertainty demands that you pay attention. And frustrating because that uncertainty never lets up, even when the final credits start rolling.

Recently fired from his job with IBM, Oliver (David Suchet) is an overweight, balding, late-middle-aged man reduced to living in a homeless shelter, where he rarely talks with anyone and is best known for spraying Lysol on everything. While walking the street one Sunday, he's approached by an attractive middle-aged woman carrying a potted plant nearly as tall as she is.

"You're Matthew Delacorta," Madeleine (Lisa Harrow) tells him, and with that, the tale begins. At first, Oliver seems uncomfortable with this case of mistaken identity, but not

uncomfortable enough to correct her.

Madeleine, it turns out, is a struggling actress whose best days ++ are behind her; of late, reduced to playing "a living dead mutant," she laments, "I guess I'm too old to play a human being." Matthew Delacorta is a borderline-famous director she once met briefly.

Oliver and Madeleine are those saddest of souls, lonelyhearts looking for a little companionship. Both hope they can get what they need from the other, but neither is trusting enough to let that happen.

Suchet, known to TV audiences for playing Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot on PBS, and Harrow, a three-decade veteran of Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, are riveting as they try to break through each other's defenses. Above all else, both characters are afraid to push too hard, lest it all disappear.

Oliver lives his lie from the start, which explains why he's willing to believe Madeleine is just as devious; when her estranged husband (Larry Pine, in a demonically sleazy turn) shows up and claims she once attacked him, Oliver believes it. Oliver tells Madeleine the truth about him, although he tells her under the guise of tapping into his acclaimed storytelling skills.

From that point on, Madeleine's never sure who to believe, and neither are we. But like Oliver and Madeleine, we believe the truth must be out there, somewhere. It's a tribute to Nossiter's script (co-written by James Lusdan) and the actors' talent that we care about the characters that much, even if they're not being exactly honest with us.


Starring David Suchet and Lisa Harrow

Directed by Jonathan Nossiter

Released by Cinepix Film Properties

Rated Unrated (language, nudity)

Sun score ***

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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