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Finding Greatness in the Shadow of a Blockbuster

TWO exquisite little gems grace the movie marquees of a few cities right now. If you hesitate, you might miss them. "Truly, Madly, Deeply" by British director Anthony Minghella and "Paper Wedding" directed by Canada's Michel Brault shimmer with the incandescence of authentic benevolence, true love reaffirmed.It's easy to forget how deeply affecting a bright little film can be in the shadow of the blockbuster. The gaudier thrills of "Terminator 2" or "Robin Hood" seem coarse after "Paper Wedding" and "Truly, Madly, Deeply." Each of these films covers some of the same ground as flashier (but flatter) movies. "Truly" is to "Ghost" what "Paper Wedding" is to "Green Card." In each case, the smaller film encompasses larger and more complex emotions and reveals more than its big budget counterparts. Like "Ghost,Tru ly, Madly, Deeply" concerns the postmortem return of a protective lover to his bereaved. But "Ghost" has no rough edges, no psychological complexity, no deeper implications about life's choices. "Ghost" was a sweet, simplistic love story turned thriller that substituted special effects for genuine perception. "Truly ghost is no see-through phantom. Jamie (Alan Rickman) seems very real. His return halts Nina's disabling grief and the reunion comes as a relief. But Jamie is not the same. For one thing, he's awfully cold all the time, he piles on the blankets and turns up the heat. He's bored, too - he keeps rearranging Nina's furniture while she's at work, and inviting in pallid friends. Writer-director Minghella cleverly sidesteps the cosmic questions. Jamie answers vaguely all queries about "heaven" and so on . The ghostly elements are sometimes goofy, sometimes distressing. Nevertheless, the film's message transcends the limitations of the ghost-story vehicle. At the final moment of the film, Mr. Minghella's goal, as well as the benevolence of the characters' motives, crystallizes before our eyes. After all the heart-wrenching grief realized in Juliet Stevenson's performance as Nina, Minghella celebrates unselfish love, life's continuity, and the healing of grief. The emotions this film evokes are rather more p owerful than most of us expect in the movies - it is definitely not for everyone. But Minghella's vision is ultimately gracious. So, too, is that of Michel Brault. "Paper Wedding" is everything "Green Card" might have been. Genevieve Bujold plays a professor of medieval literature who marries a Chilean journalist to prevent his deportation back to Chile where he will certainly face arrest, torture, and execution. This time something is at stake. In "Green Card" the illegal alien was threatened with deportation back to France. Poor guy. Like "Truly, Madly, Deeply," "Paper Wedding" is a modest picture that derives its power from del icate shadings of character, intricate emotions, and a vision of transcendent human affection. Layers of meaning and complex detail raise it above the love-story genre. Ms. Bujold projects intelligence, compassion, and wit as the worldly professor who discovers a whole new realm of affection. The discovery of love is so tenderly realized and comes with so profound a sense of innocence and personal renewal, it amounts to a kind of redemption. Manuel Aranquiz's performance grows and unfolds, moving deliberate ly from the stereotype of a dish-washing foreigner, to the beauty of a poetic, loving human being. The highly developed benevolence in both "Truly, Madly, Deeply" and "Paper Wedding" sets them apart from most motion pictures. Whatever their flaws in terms of modest production values, they make up for in spirit.

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