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‘Uranus’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 27, 1991

Director Claude Berri finds morose poetry in "Uranus," a politically complex tale of collaborators, resisters and fence-sitters in small-town France at the end of World War II. Adapted by Berri from Marcel Ayme's vitriolic 1948 novel, the story is as perversely philosophical and cerebrally obscure as anything written by John le Carre. It helps to know French history and it helps to love Berri, whose Provencal perspective informed "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring."

The cast, a Who's Who of French leading men, is headed by Jean-Pierre Marielle as the quietly myopic Archambaud, a cautious family man who with his wife and daughter simply waited out the war. While others have lost home, family or peace of mind, Archambaud suffers only the inconvenience of sharing his apartment with less fortunate neighbors. It just so happens that the lodgers represent a cross section of the population, which was near civil war after liberation.

Two rooms of Archambaud's apartment shelter the local Communist leader (Michel Blanc), a reasonable man who is played against the party ideologue (Fabrice Luchini). A third small room is home to the humanist philosopher Watrin (Philippe Noiret), a high school teacher who lost everything -- wife, home, classroom, cynicism -- during an American bombing raid. He believes that man is no more or less evil than a squirrel and readily helps the kindhearted Archambaud when he decides to hide a fugitive Fascist collaborator (Gerard Desarthe) in the crowded apartment.

To complete the cross section, we move down the street to the local bar, where a petty Communist Party member (Daniel Prevost) has falsely accused the cafe owner, Leopold (Gerard Depardieu), of hiding the collaborator in his bar. Leopold turns to a weathy profiteer (Michel Galabru) for help.

Sad sacks and eggheads for the most part, the characters argue the future of their country, discuss the hypocrisy of man and contemplate the void as symbolized here by Watrin's study of the planet Uranus. It's all too obviously a lecture, and not a very compelling one.

There is a sort of high low point in the snorting and flailing Depardieu. Le hulk incroyable is out of control, but welcomely so, as Leopold, a former circus strongman who tosses back 10 quarts of wine a day and weeps sweetly over Racine's poetry. A cruel host, he regularly beats up his customers, whom he serves from dirty glasses. A cruel husband, he taunts his wife for being old and shriveled when she was once so beautiful. He's not larger than life exactly, just larger than the universe that surrounds him.

After all, Berri's "Uranus" is an intellectual argument of a movie that is as remote and dark as its namesake.

"Uranus," in French with subtitles, is unrated but has adult content.

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