Neo-Nazis Plot Nuclear Armageddon, Interrupt Jack Ryan’s Romance

Phil Alden Robinson’s The Sum of All Fears , from a screenplay by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne, based on the novel by Tom Clancy, achieves a greater measure of authenticity than any action film in recent memory thanks to the full cooperation of the Defense Department and the C.I.A. Of course, Mr. Clancy could not have foreseen in August 1991, when The Sum of All Fears was first published, that the events of 9/11 would put a new spin on terrorism.

Principal photography for the film adaptation began in Montreal in February 2001, with second-unit filming taking place in Washington, Baltimore, Russia and the California desert. Rumor has it that the release was postponed until now because of 9/11, which, as I write this column, has not yet been replicated or surpassed by international terrorists.

Mr. Clancy and the filmmakers start off in the Middle East during the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict with the sensational supposition that the Israelis were prepared to drop a nuclear bomb on their enemies to avert defeat. The Israeli plane blows up in midair, however, and the bomb falls, intact, on desert sands. Years pass, and two Arabs discover the bomb and sell it to a South African arms dealer, who then sets off an international intrigue involving Syrian merchants, defecting Russian nuclear scientists, and an Austrian ex-Nazi industrialist who schemes to maneuver the United States and Russia into all-out nuclear conflict and mutual destruction. Hitler’s mistake was fighting the United States and the Soviet Union: The trick is to get them to fight each other, and let an unscathed European Union pick up the pieces.

Ben Affleck, in the role of C.I.A. agent Jack Ryan, is all that stands between the nefarious conspirators and World War III. Ryan, an academic historian at a think tank and a specialist in Russian affairs, is recruited by Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman), head of the C.I.A., for a special mission to Moscow to evaluate the new Russian leader, President Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds). Ryan once wrote a paper on Nemerov that caused a buzz in both the White House and the Kremlin.

Ryan’s Moscow trip interrupts his budding romantic liaison with Dr. Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan), a relationship the all-seeing Cabot teases Ryan about incessantly. One understands why the C.I.A. lent its assistance to the film: The running joke about the agency knowing everything about everybody is invaluable P.R. at a time when people are asking embarrassing questions about who knew what before 9/11.

We sit back, confident that Ryan and Cabot will catch and neutralize the terrorists before any real damage is done. Boy, are we in for a shock! (By “we,” I mean viewers like me who’ve never read the Clancy novel.) When the carnage is over, 9/11 looks like a tea party. Frankly, I was impressed by how many tit-for-tat retaliatory responses the filmmakers allow before pulling the plug on the conspirators and averting an American-Russian Armageddon. You have to see it to believe it.

I was impressed also by the hysteria of the President and his advisers when faced with unwelcome choices. James Cromwell as the President, Ron Rifkin as the reluctant-warrior Secretary of State and Philip Baker Hall as the bellicose Secretary of Defense are matched in fractious discord by their counterparts in the Kremlin, led by a truly tortured, agonizingly indecisive President Nemerov. No one is calm, cool and collected. And why should they be, when the fate of civilization is at stake?

Indeed, I felt relieved when Jack Ryan and Dr. Cathy Muller resumed their lovemaking, though I knew they would be crucified by the other critics for the sins of the screenwriters. I am less upset by tepid love scenes than most of my colleagues-perhaps because I was brought up on movies in which the love interest had to be pried into the narrative with a shoe horn.

From Georgia, With Love

Dover Koshashvili’s Late Marriage , from his own screenplay, turns out to be a remarkably mature first feature with a calculated anti-Ophulsian aesthetic. As the writer-director says in an interview, speaking of his male protagonist Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi): “From my viewpoint, Zaza’s situation is static, which is reflected in the camera’s fixed state. I do not wish to emphasize the dynamics of my lens. I want to focus the audience’s attention on the characters rather than on the means of expression.”

Of course, such directorial statements can be simply self-serving or misleading, or both. In this instance, however, Mr. Koshashvili practices what he preaches. With a more “dynamic” form of expression, his film would simply degenerate into another ethnically extended family farce on the subject of quaint marriage customs.

In the Georgian émigré community of Tel Aviv, Lili (Lili Koshashvili, the director’s mother) and Yasha (Moni Moshonov) are upset that their 31-year-old son Zaza has not yet married one of the many young virgins from good families to whom he has been introduced by his relentless parents. What’s wrong? Zaza’s secret reason for flouting tradition is Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a beautiful 34-year-old Moroccan divorcée with whom he is passionately involved. To make matters worse for his Georgian parents, Judith has a 6-year-old daughter.

The centerpiece of the film is a realistic sex scene with Zaza and Judith that has already been hailed at film festivals around the world for its frankness and insightfulness. Here the director’s disdain for the “dynamic” camera movements that transform sexual coupling into an Olympic event imparts a physical sincerity to the union of Zaza and Judith. But immense obstacles remain for the two lovers over the long haul.

One night, Zaza’s entire extended family swoops down on the furtive lovers and seeks to terrorize the errant couple into conforming with Georgian tradition. After all, Judith is not a virgin and is three years older than Zaza. Judith remains dignified through this ordeal; instead of protesting, she simply affirms her love for Zaza. She knows that it’s up to him to make the decision to defy his family.

In the midst of this outrageous conflict between love and tradition, many subtleties of character are exposed. Zaza’s father and mother have never had an ideal marriage, but this fact does nothing to soften their stance. In addition, there are ominous signs that Zaza is far from prepared to break away from his parents financially. His mother, who brings a present for Judith’s little girl, has a heart-to-heart talk with Judith, and tells her husband afterward that Judith is a good woman, that they must wait to see if Zaza can get over her.

The careful compositions of the film and the middle distance the camera keeps from the characters reminds me in its cumulative force of the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu. The last scenes of the film are anguished, bitter and truthful. Mr. Koshashvili is a director to watch.

A Tortured Mind

Paul Cox’s Nijinsky: The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky , narrated by Derek Jacobi, takes Mr. Cox in the opposite direction from his remarkable film Vincent (1987), based on Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. Whereas Van Gogh was a penniless nonentity in his own time and has since become a fabulous legend, Nijinsky was a fabulous legend in his own time and has since been reduced to little more than a figure of speech. There are no pictures, still or moving, of his shockingly revolutionary performance in Le Sacre du Printemps , which provoked a near riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913. For a long time, the misconception persisted that the public uproar was caused by Igor Stravinsky’s “modernist” music rather than Nijinsky’s sensual dancing.

Because of its spatial immediacy, dance has never been well-served by the cinema. Add to this the anti-film snobbery of stage dancers, choreographers and impresarios, and posterity has been robbed of even a minimal representation of dance’s glorious past. Nijinsky’s magnificent leaps, jetés that electrified contemporaries such as Rodin, Cocteau and Modigliani, must remain recorded by words rather than images.

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Kiev in 1890, and joined the Imperial School of Ballet in Saint Petersburg at 10. He soon became one of the school’s prodigies, joining the Imperial Ballet in 1900. Soon he met the famous impresario Serge Diaghilev, who enticed him to his Ballets Russes in Paris as his lover and mentor. Nijinsky’s professional career lasted only six more years, during which time his marriage to the Hungarian countess Romola de Pulszka during a visit to Buenos Aires in 1913 caused the jealous Diaghilev to expel his protégé from the Ballets Russes. From then on, Nijinsky relied on invitations to perform in London, Paris and New York, until he was reinstated as a guest artist by the Ballets Russes. His last ballet was created in New York in October 1916.

In January 1919, he began writing a journal and continued for several weeks before he was placed in a sanitarium, where he lived for 30 years, until his death in 1950. Though the writing took only weeks, the journal covers the span of his life up to 1919. A thoroughly sanitized version of Nijinsky’s diary was published by his wife in 1936, but it was only in 1995 that three of the four notebooks appeared, unexpurgated, in a French translation; the English edition was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1999.

Mr. Cox has been dreaming of making this film for 30 years, and one hesitates to question the choices he’s made in rendering Mr. Nijinsky’s feverish words into free-flowing dances in wooded areas far from the tumult of early 20th-century theater stages and audiences. Mr. Cox has made a valiant effort to enter Nijinsky’s tortured mind; he’s ably assisted by Derek Jacobi, who reads the diaries expressively. I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like this film, and I recommend it for its originality alone.