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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 08, 1992


Istvan Szabo
Andras Balint;
Miklos Gabor
Not rated

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Nothing with an actor as touched with genius as Max von Sydow can be completely dismissed, but "Father" comes close. Playing an aging German grandfather who emigrated to Australia after World War II, von Sydow uses the frailty of his elongated, Giacometti frame to magnificent effect, especially when he's accused by a survivor of Nazi horrors of committing war atrocities.

The accusation, which is aired on television by an ambitious television reporter, comes completely out of the blue, both for Joseph Mueller (von Sydow) and his daughter (Carol Drinkwater). Mueller is a doting grandfather who walks his "little monsters" to school every morning. No one, it seems, could be more harmless. And so when the charges are made, the daughter rallies to his defense with a clear conscience. But as the movie progresses, she begins to have doubts. Could this man she has loved and trusted so implicitly, so completely, have committed such heinous acts?

If you feel you've heard this story before, you have -- in "The Music Box." And the similarities between the two films are so great that nearly every development, including the final, devastating revelation, seems anticlimactic. Point for point, incident for incident, they're nearly identical.

The film, which was directed by the Australian John Power, is a serious exploration of a crucial subject. But the movie runs through its examination without much feeling, and certainly without any special insight. Aside from von Sydow's performance, the only passion in the film comes from the heartbreaking anguish of Mueller's accuser, whom we first see as a little girl, standing alone surrounded by bodies in a mass grave, her hair matted with blood. The urgency of Julia Blake's performance is a chilling reminder that, for some, the past can never be escaped. When she bares her psychic scars, her pain cuts deep, leaving its own wounds. If only the rest of the film had been on this level.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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