European films take on troubling issues with mixed results
Several movies from Europe have gone into release after premieres at the New York Film Festival earlier this season. All reflect the cautious, introspective mood that prevails in cinema circles just now.
Andrzej Wajda, the most influential and respected Polish filmmaker, has continued his practice of confronting social and political situations in recent pictures - by metaphor in ''Danton,'' by implication in ''Man of Marble,'' and directly in ''Man of Iron,'' which included documentary footage of Solidarity agitation.
His latest film, ''A Love in Germany,'' also deals with real and troubling issues, but it subordinates them to a romantic plot. The time is World War II, when Polish prisoners were pressed into menial service by their Nazi captors. The place is a small German town, where a shopkeeper falls in love with the Polish man assigned to help her while her husband is away in combat. For a while they keep their affair secret, but their passion is too explosive to conceal for long, and they face severe penalties when caught.
Wajda has a hard-hitting style, and it gets heavy-handed when he details the strength of the lovers' feelings. Indeed, he exalts their primal, instinctual behavior as an antidote to the sick logic of Nazi ideas and methods. At times this pushes the story to the limits of credibility: When the lovers are caught, they embrace instead of dissembling, and the Pole doesn't think for an instant before refusing a life-saving chance to be ''Germanized.''
Although its romantic elements don't always work, ''A Love in Germany'' is successful when love and intrigue give way to a vigorous cry of rage against totalitarian thinking. The later scenes take on a nightmarish humor as Nazi functionaries quibble over fine points of a ''master race'' strategy and plan an execution that is as pointless as it is cruel. In these episodes Wajda's own passions find harrowingly clear expression, renewing his reputation as a conscientious explorer of sociopolitical terrain.
The cast of ''A Love in Germany'' includes Hanna Schygulla and Elizabeth Trissenaar, two German actresses often associated with the late director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Piotr Lysak as the Polish hero. Igor Luther was the cinematographer, and the romantic Michel Legrand composed the music. The screenplay, based on a Rolf Hochhuth novel, is by Boleslaw Michelek and Agnieszka Holland as well as Wajda, who agreed with me in a recent conversation that the flashback structure - the story is seen through the eyes of a present-day man visiting scenes of his youth - doesn't justify its own complexities.
'Diary for My Children'
Ideological issues also run through ''Diary for My Children,'' written and directed by Hungarian director Marta Meszaros. The heroine is a teen-ager returning to Hungary in 1946 after living in Russian exile with her family. It's a hard adjustment to make, especially since her new guardian is a hard-line Communist who expects her to toe the line. But drawing on her own mental resources - especially the memory of her free-thinking father - the girl finds her own ways of dealing with family and society alike.
Winner of the ''grand special jury prize'' at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the drama has been photographed in delicate black-and-white shades by Miklos Jancso Jr., the son of Hungary's most renowned (and stylistically radical) political filmmaker. Its performances, led by Zsuzsa Czinkoczi as the adolescent, are equally expressive. For all its careful construction, however, ''Diary for My Children'' never quite reaches the level of emotional urgency its story warrants. Its crisp images - especially the evocative clips from East European films of the period - stay in memory more vividly than the ideas and emotions behind them.