TRUE LOVE

Annabella Sciorra, Ron Eldard.

Directed by Nancy Savoca. 1989.

Rated R. (MGM/UA tape, 101 mins., Hi-Fi stereo, DS, CC, $89.95)

Independent movie-making often seems to have struck its independence not only from the craven commercial grip of Hollywood but also from polish, from plot, from professionalism and, more often than not, from talent. At its best, though, independence brings fresh vision and firm integrity that forsakes commercialism, not because it can't hack it, but because an audience conditioned by Hollywood won't buy it. Video rentals offer the only life most of these movies are likely to have.

"True Love," an independent movie full of talent, is a low-budget, low-concept picture set in the mean streets of the Italian Bronx, where the accents are as thick as a Sicilian pizza, where religious medallions are de rigueur and where conversations are punctuated with thrusting hands like a semaphoreman landing a plane.

These are decent working-class people, too busy living their lives to reflect on them. But the implicit question of whether their lives are going anywhere informs them and this sensitive movie.

Michael (Eldard), who works the counter in a deli, and Donna (Sciorra) are engaged. They are young, headstrong and sexually infatuated. As their wedding day approaches, they are also increasingly aware that marriage represents a foreclosure of life rather than a new opening for it. She frets whether Michael is the right guy. Michael, something of a hell-raiser, frets whether she is going to domesticate him. "I just don't want to wind up hating my life," he tells a friend.

It is easy to condescend to such characters as Hollywood invariably does when it makes a rare foray into working-class life. "True Love" neither condescends nor sentimentalizes them: Michael still tells Donna he's going off with the guys on their wedding night. It respects their dilemmas and grants them the depths of their emotions without insisting on a pat resolution.

"True Love" is a true sleeper -- nicely observed, well-acted and independent in the very best sense, that is, free of the cliche'd, the facile and the dishonest.

VIDEO REVIEW MAGAZINE THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP