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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Lianna
Directed by John Sayles
Warner Home Video 01/83 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R

Lianna (Linda Griffiths) has been married to Dick (Jon DeVries), a college English professor, for 15 years. They have two children and a chilly relationship. Bitter and disappointed that he has not achieved tenure, Dick is a walking batch of bad weather. His cynicism throws a shadow on all those around him.

Lianna gave up college when she married and is now attending night school along with her closest confidant Sandy (Jo Henderson), the wife of the football coach. There Lianna falls in love with Ruth (Jane Hallaren), the winsome and bright teacher of a course in child psychology. They are naturally drawn to each other. During their first evening together, Lianna recalls a long repressed sexual attraction for a girlfriend during her youth.

Sayles allows the story of his main character's self-discovery to unravel slowly. This film, like the director's The Return of the Secaucus Seven, is very talky. Yet, it nonetheless exudes an offbeat glow. Once Lianna realizes her love for Ruth, she is determined to go all the way with it. When Dick is informed, he boots her out of the house and tells the children that their mother is a lesbian. Lianna moves into an apartment and takes a job as a cashier in a supermarket.

Instead of accepting the love offered, Ruth recoils. She is unprepared for the intensity of Lianna's singular commitment. Further, she is worried about losing her job once the affair is out in the open.

Lianna's acceptance of her lesbianism is more than a glandular imperative. It is a liberation enabling her to be herself at last. In one scene, she saunters down the street eyeing other women with joyful abandon. Several trips to a gay disco are delightful excursions. At the same time, Lianna experiences excruciating loneliness while Ruth tries to make up her mind. Sandy avoids her, and her children seem aloof.

In a very poignant moment, Lianna watches a modern dance sequence which portrays the tensions within a passionate sexual relationship between two people — the strong impulse toward blending and the equally strong impulse toward independence. Realizing that Ruth will abandon her, Lianna cries.

The screenplay by John Sayles is both congenial and wise. In a heated moment with Dick, Lianna says: "Just because you can argue better doesn't mean you are right." The writer-director appears in the story as a randy film professor who makes a pass at Lianna but is swiftly and politely rebuffed. Later, upon learning of her newfound lifestyle, he apologizes and wishes her well.

Many such scenes are handled with just the right touch. Viewers are sure to find much to savor in these moral and emotional confrontations Lianna muses upon love, friendship, and camaraderie in a fresh but unspectacular way. It is an appealing movie worth experiencing.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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