Review: ‘Candles in the Dark’

Set around Estonia's fight for freedom, "Candles in the Dark" is a sweet, endearing but safe story that occasionally suffers from low production values and muddled sub-characters but will no doubt make the family weep.

Set around Estonia’s fight for freedom, “Candles in the Dark” is a sweet, endearing but safe story that occasionally suffers from low production values and muddled sub-characters but will no doubt make the family weep.

Maximilian Schell has asked Family Channel to remove his name as director, and offered to buy overseas rights from the cabler, with the intent of recutting the vidpic. However, Family Channel has issued a statement saying it is “proud of the film” and has “no current plans to release any other versions in our territories.”

After flunking out of college, Sylvia (Alyssa Milano) is sent to her father’s homeland to visit her Aunt Marta (Natascha Andreichenko) — a rather questionable parenting decision, considering the ongoing political upheaval.

However, Sylvia and resistance fighter Jaan Toome (Chad Lowe) soon fall in love, and fall out just as quickly when his old girlfriend, Russian skater Natasha (Helena Merzin), comes back into the picture, thanks to KGB prompting.

A story about an American teen getting wrapped up in serious politics may be hard to swallow, but luckily the story instead dwells on her relationships and lessons about God, freedom and sacrifice.

Much of the telepic is aimed directly at the heart and manages to pluck some strings. Sylvia convinces Aunt Marta to not give up hope and to get involved with the resistance movement; in a heartwarming moment, they decide to stand and fight as one.

“Candles”– the first film for Western viewing that’s shot in Estonia — features some transcendent scenery: cobblestone streets, rugged terrain and antique buildings, all shot satisfactorily by d.p. Roberto Forges-Davanzati.

Under director Schell and scripter Nicholas Niciphor, Milano is guilty of occasionally overplaying the fish-out-of-water bit, as in her hysterics after discovering she left her makeup bag in America. Otherwise, she does well with the difficult role. Lowe is often too pious.

The riot scenes stray toward being artificial and a little simple, with armed soldiers using their fists to fight the resistance movement. Schell and Niciphor often leave undefined characters such as Col. Arkush (Schell), who runs the gamut from supporter to foe of the resistance.

Candles in the Dark

(Fri. (3), 8-10 p.m., the Family Channel)

Production

Filmed in Estonia by Taska Films in association with Kushner-Locke Co. and Family Prods., a unit of Intl. Family Entertainment Inc. Exec producer, James M. Dowaliby; producer, Ilmar Taska; co-producer, Peter Shepherd; associate producer , Eva Banhidi; director, Maximilian Schell; writer, Nicholas Niciphor.

Crew

Camera, Roberto Forges-Davanzati; editor, Lawrence J. Gleason; production designer, Ronald Kolmann; art director, Leo Latti; sound, Cameron Hamza; music, Richard Bowers.

Cast

Cast: Maximilian Schell, Alyssa Milano, Chad Lowe, Gunther Maria Halmer, Natascha Andreichenko, Aleksei Petrenko, Gita Rank, Helena Merzin, Lembit Ulfsak , Elle Kull, Anna Levandi, Arvo Iho, Salme Poopuu, Salme Reek, Maria Avdjushko, Andres Puustusmaa, Juri Jarvet, Hendrik Toom, Mart Sander, Juri Arrak, Edith Sepp, Dajan Ahmetov.
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