Raul Julia's sure-footed interp of a supposed torture victim and Vanessa Redgrave's sweeping study of a once-tortured psychiatrist now running a refuge for those who've endured agonies go a long way toward making "Down Came a Blackbird" a significant TV movie. The protagonist should be so strong.

Raul Julia’s sure-footed interp of a supposed torture victim and Vanessa Redgrave’s sweeping study of a once-tortured psychiatrist now running a refuge for those who’ve endured agonies go a long way toward making “Down Came a Blackbird” a significant TV movie. The protagonist should be so strong.

Filmed in Toronto by Viacom Pictures and Chanticleer Films. Executive producers, Jana Sue Memel, Thomas Colwell, Laura Dern; co-executive producer-writer, Kevin Droney; producer, Patrick Whitley; director, Jonathan Sanger; After a prologue in South America where writer Helen (Laura Dern) and b.f. Jan (Jay O. Sanders) are snatched by guerrillas, action switches to a year later and the sublime company of Anna (Redgrave), who runs a safe house. Scripter Kevin Droney focuses specifically on several of the half-dozen patients trying to cast out their pain; director Jonathan Sanger doesn’t wastea moment. Pockets of dialogue are often solid drama, and the self-revelations are imposing.

The shadow of fascistic oppression looms over all, and Droney cannily builds individuals without tearing them down to see what makes them tick. Journalist Helen, checking into the clinic, wants to write a piece on Anna, who in turn sees Helen as covering up her own suffering. Julia’s Tomas has arrived late on the scene, and Helen and he hit it off; they share some of their past, and he reads Rilke to her.

Redgrave masterfully sets the tone for the opus as she moves among her disciples; it’s a disciplined, commanding perf. Helen, as played by Dern, whose uncertain laughter doesn’t help, fares less persuasively; she doesn’t convince she’s the victim Anna perceives.

Sarita Choudhury beautifully manages the pain all-but-speechless Myrna’s endured, while L. Scott Caldwell’s departing Cerises reflects the possibilities of recovery. Falconer Abraham’s suffering Kouadio is on the alert from whatever happened to him, and Nick the Greek (Cliff Gorman) forcibly reacts to any sign of danger.

Telepic was filmed in October 1994, and Julia died two weeks after it wound. In this final role as mysterious Tomas, the actor subtly discloses a man with a terrible secret, and if Tomas’ motive for being at Anna’s seems forced, Julia still makes him the genuine article.

Patrick Whitley’s strong production is first class. Kees Van Oostrum’s delicate camerawork ranges from early dark hues to black-and-white to muted colors, all complementing the storyline. Toni Morgan’s editing is superior, Graeme Revell’s score is helpful, and Barbara Dunphy’s design is tops.

Down Came a Blackbird

Showtime, Sun. Oct. 22, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Toronto by Viacom Pictures and Chanticleer Films. Executive producers, Jana Sue Memel, Thomas Colwell, Laura Dern; co-executive producer-writer, Kevin Droney; producer , Patrick Whitley; director, Jonathan Sanger.

Crew

Camera, Kees Van Oostrum; editor, Toni Morgan; production designer, Barbara Dunphy; art director, Jennifer Carrol; sound, David Lee; music, Graeme Revell. 2 HOURS

With

Cast: Raul Julia, Laura Dern, Vanessa Redgrave, Cliff Gorman, Sarita Choudhury, Jay O. Sanders, Jeffrey DeMunn, L. Scott Caldwell, Falconer Abraham, Von Flores, Miguel Fernandes, Carlo D. Rota, James Kidnie, Tedd Dillon, Angel Jara, Ramon Marroquin, Henry Perez, Christian Vidosa, Bruce McFee, Dan Corby, Amanda Smith.
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