By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Docudramatically, the Holocaust is a most difficult (because a most hallowed) ground; even the sincerest re-enactment diminishes the historical event, subverting lived, personal tragedy to narrative effect. The subject falls apart under the merest touch of Hollywood technique -- there has been care here, for instance, to cast good-looking actors in the main parts, actors who continue to look pretty good, even with their rude prison haircuts, even while being worked away to nothing. Such films make the horror not acceptable but digestible, and render archival the very thing they mean to bring alive.
Nevertheless, director Donna Deitch (Desert Hearts) has made an effective if sometimes programmatic film that may do its little bit to carry the old news to the kids it's been made for, and to keep the flame burning as "20th-century" becomes synonymous with "old-fashioned." If it is only moderately terrifying, it is as terrifying as it needs to be, for its purpose -- which is not so much to catalog atrocities as it is to stress the need for historical and clan consciousness -- or should be, given the relatively tender years of its intended audience. (I know, I know, they're all inured to violence. But I can dream, can't I?) Filmed in Lithuania and Canada in the cold and wet, The Devil's Arithmeticis palpably, sometimes numbingly, atmospheric, its most disturbing images also its most beautifully made -- attention has been paid to color and texture and light. But Deitch succeeds mainly by keeping the story personal and personally felt, focusing closely on Dunst, whose passage back in time and into darkness stands for our own. Noticeably blond in a sea of dark heads, Dunst is very fine, as are (dark-headed) Brittany Murphy (of Oprah Winfrey's TV remake of David and Lisa) as her best friend and Louise Fletcher in a small but important role as her favorite aunt. The movie's mystical denouement, while predictable, is also moving in the extreme. I'm just glad you weren't here to see me bawling.
A QUICK WORD ABOUT STRANGE WORLD, WHICH concerns -- really it does -- an agent of the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases and his fight against "criminal abuses of science," and which opened to the worst ratings ever for an ABC dramatic series in its time slot. It may even be toast by the time you read this, replaced by reruns of NYPD Blue, whose perch it was (is) set to temporarily occupy. Although in possibly too many respects a minor mutation of The X-Files (call it The Rx-Files), and often silly where it strains to be inscrutable -- the mysterious Japanese woman who irregularly delivers to star Tim Guinee the mysterious drug he needs to stay alive is purest pulp -- its premise is sound and satisfying. After politicians and policemen, scientists and surgeons (cold, calculating, ready to sacrifice all to the ends of their damnable research) are the obvious villains of our age, perhaps because we look to them to save us and we know they can't. Or won't. The bastards.
THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC | Showtime Premieres Sunday, March 28, 8 p.m.
EARTHLY POSSESSIONS | HBO Premieres Saturday, March 20, 8 p.m.
ABC | Tuesdays, 10 p.m.
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