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‘The Name of the Rose’ (R)

By Paul Attanasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 27, 1986

"The Name of the Rose" is billed as a "palimpsest" of the Umberto Eco novel. You may or may not know what the heck a palimpsest is or whether you can order one through the Sharper Image catalogue, but the point is that Sean Connery could hardly pronounce it. When, as William of Baskerville, he tells you how much he loves books, he sounds like a long-haul trucker, and that, as much as anything else, is what's wrong with "The Name of the Rose."

When he's not loving the classics to death, William is a sage friar with a squirrelly sidekick (Christian Slater) and a nose for mysteries. A Franciscan, he comes to investigate a death at a Benedictine monastery. He discovers clues, but not as quickly as he discovers new bodies -- in a vat of blood, or an herbal bath -- all of them bearing a telltale ink stain on forefinger and tongue.

So for the better part of a very long movie, you follow the creaky mechanics of whether, in some previous life, Colonel Mustard did it in the rectory with a Mont Blanc medium point. While Connery rattles through his Sherlock Holmes bit, Slater's features contract with admiration -- he looks like someone's ratcheting a bolt into the back of his head, a bolt that gets tighter as the movie goes on.

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud has attempted to strip away the glamor from the period, to show these for the brutish times they were; toward the beginning, we see the graphic butchering of a pig, and the supporting cast comprises a freak show worthy of Fellini. Annaud's painted the movie with wasted, washed-out colors -- it's all desaturated earth tones and chilly blue light. And, as expertly photographed by cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, these really are the Dark Ages -- throughout, we only see what we have to see.

If the style of the film matches the story, that doesn't make it any easier to look at -- it's just too bleak, and in the end, you'd rather see "Ivanhoe." Annaud never finds the right rhythm for the movie, and it's sluggishly paced, even as palimpsests go.

Historical epics have a tendency to get sodden, to collapse under their sets and costumes and period atmosphere, and "Name of the Rose" is no exception. A star with some energy could keep it moving and, more importantly, keep it personal, but with his long robe, tonsured head and salt-and-pepper beard, Connery moves across the barren landscape like a vacationing psychiatrist scouring the beach for the meaning of it all. His brand of leaden melancholy is the last thing "The Name of the Rose" needs.

Well after your second nap, F. Murray Abraham appears, playing an Inquisitor who years ago had William cashiered and tortured (he was once an Inquisitor who inquired too much). But it's a little late, to say the least, and a red herring as well -- the real conflict, it turns out, is an intellectual one between Connery and the old Father Superior over whether God intended man to laugh. Why a movie that makes such a big point out of this is so dour, only God knows.

"The Name of the Rose" is rated R and contains graphic violence, nudity and sexual situations.

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