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Nude with Oranges

An imaginatively complex, visually startling and engagingly overblown historical melodrama that draws equally on episodes from the 19th-century Venezuelan war and the indigenous myths of Latin America, "Nude With Oranges" is both intellectual puzzle and visual pleasure. Though too unsentimental and culturally grounded to appeal to mainstream auds, its sweep, scale and ambition should lead to arthouse runs in Spanish-speaking territories. As the title implies, pic is the story of a painting. An art historian visits the elderly Dona Matilde, wanting to buy the legendary "Blue Virgin" from her. "War and life took care of the painting," she tells him. The rest of pic is her reminiscences of 50 years before.

With:
Ella ..... Lourdes Valera Captain ..... Daniel Alvarado Durbayan ..... Alexander Milic Johnson ..... Luis Fernandez

Pic flashes back to 19th-century scenes of rape and pillage, and to an Indian captain in the Liberal Army (Daniel Alvarado, full of demonic energy) stealing the “Blue Virgin” canvas. In a game he wins both Ella (Lourdes Valera), an

aristocratic deaf-mute, and an evil charm. The only way of getting rid of the charm is to sell it for less than the previous owner paid for it — a simple but gripping dramatic hook. From this moment on, the destinies of the captain, girl and evil charm are tragically united.

Ella follows him around the Caribbean as he uses the evil charm to win money, getting further and further into debt with the devil. Slowly the captain falls in love with her, leaving the army so that he can do things like paint her nude on a beach with oranges.

A raw plot description scarcely does justice to the wealth of visual and intellectual data on which pic is constructed. Helmer Luis Alberto Lamata — who directed soaps before moving into features with 1990’s “Jericho” — has an

energetic, painterly eye. He’s equally adept at filling the screen with telling detail — a crab crawling on a corpse, a bemused expression on a native’s face — or with striking set pieces, such as a cockfight on a beach or the

destruction of a village.

Though he has a big imagination, Lamata is less good when it comes to plausibility. And as a meditation on the theme of art’s ability to outlast human life, pic is hardly new. It works best if seen as a fusion of the wildly imaginative and the grotesquely real: Lamata convinces that the distinction between these two states is not as great as might be believed, and that assimilation of both is necessary for happiness.

Pic is let down slightly by its relentless earnestness — the word “destiny” is never far from the characters’ lips — and its breathless desire to do justice to too wide a range of historical, political and romantic themes. Tech credits are excellent, and the lush, romantic score is entirely appropriate.

Nude with Oranges

Venezuelan

Production: A Cine Marte production, in association with Thalia Prods. (International sales: Cine Marte, Caracas). Executive producer, Arnaldo Limanski. Directed by Luis Alberto Lamata. Screenplay, Lamata, Cesar Miguel Rondon.

Crew: Camera (color), Andres Agusti; editor, Mario Nazoa; music, Francisco Cabruzas; art direction, Jorge Vieira, Aureliano Alfonzo; costume design, Antonio Alfozo; sound (Dolby), Mario Nazoa. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Made in Spain), Sept. 3, 1996. (Also in Miami fest.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Ella ..... Lourdes Valera Captain ..... Daniel Alvarado Durbayan ..... Alexander Milic Johnson ..... Luis Fernandez

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