JULIE WALKING HOME

Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Canada/Poland/Germany. 2002.


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Agnieszka Holland is a middle-ranking Polish director who has been active for over 30 years.  She has worked with such leading figures as Zanussi, Wajda, and Kieslowski, though the best-known films in the UK which she has directed herself are from outside Poland: To Kill a Priest (1988), Europa, Europa (1990), The Secret Garden (1993), and Washington Square (1997).  Another American film, The Third Miracle (1999), had a modest theatrical success in the U.S.A. but slipped out unnoticed on video in the U.K.  Her films often feature child actors in central roles.  Her latest, Julie Walking Home, is a Canadian-Polish-German co-production, set mostly in Canada but with scenes in Poland and (in a prologue) Russia.

Based loosely on a true story of a friend of Hollandís, Julie Walking Home tells of a mother (Miranda Otto) whose young son Nicolas (Ryan Smith) suddenly develops what appears to be terminal cancer.  Hearing of the amazing achievements of a Russian faith-healer Alexis (Lothaire Bluteau) in her fatherís homeland of Poland, she flies over there, and Alexis duly works his magic.  What she doesnít bargain for is that she and the healer fall in love, and arrange to spend time together at a friendís house back in Canada.  Alexis has never had dealings with a woman before, so Julie teaches him the ropes.  After the consummation Alexis loses his powers, Nicolas falls mortally sick again, and Julieís husband Henry (William Fichtner) goes berserk over the whole situation.

This sounds like the plot of a rather bad TV melodrama, not without justification; it is a kind of variation on the Samson and Delilah story (the strong man loses his powers via a woman).  However, there are some interesting ideas along the way which could have been further developed.  In particular, the family members react in different ways to Nicolasí original illness.  Julieís father, a Polish Catholic, seeks to have him baptised; Henry, a non-religious Jew and scientist, insists that things just have to be accepted; Nicolasí twin sister tries magical rituals; Julie herself, hearing about Alexis from her fatherís mail-order bride(!), forsakes her nominal Catholicism in favour of the faith-healer.

The film is beautifully shot and acted, particularly by Miranda Otto, though personally I can do without the fashionable documentary-style hand-held camerawork, presumably intended to reflect the restlessness of modern life.  It is interesting how the Canadian actor Lothaire Bluteau, as Alexis, seems typecast in this kind of role; he played a remarkably similar character in a film by another Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi, The Silent Touch (1992), though the best role in which I have seen him is as the protagonist in Denys Arcandís superb Jesus of Montreal (1989).

The version of Julie Walking Home which I saw had Polish subtitles, which meant that the bits of dialogue in Polish or Russian were lost on me; this did not, however, detract from understanding what was going on.  Iím also not clear as to the precise meaning of the title, nor do I know (at the time of writing) when a U.K. release will be forthcoming.  If and when it appears it is well worth seeing, but probably no more than once; in other words, it is the kind of film which is given a rating of 3, perhaps 4, stars out of 5.

Alan Pavelin

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