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‘Voyager’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 29, 1992

With a winding scenario that involves six countries, and a string of hokey Greek-tragedy coincidences, "Voyager" is doomed to easy derision and a small audience of European-film aficionados.

Yet this adaptation of Max Frisch's "Homo Faber," set in the 1950s, has some appeal. To watch "Voyager" is to remember old-fashioned elements from the European films of that time, the then-exciting work of the Antonionis and Fellinis. International traveler Sam Shepard is sitting dejectedly at an airport contemplating something significant that has happened to him. In classic tragedy fashion, the movie replays all that has preceded this day.

It is revealed early that he was involved with German Jew Barbara Sukowa in Zurich before World War II. But when she became pregnant, he dispatched her to have an abortion. They have not seen each other since.

The story is easily predictable, so the less revealed the better. Shepard discovers his friend August Zirner (who has since married Sukowa) has committed suicide in South America, which leads him back to an ultimately devastating discovery. During his travels, he becomes emotionally involved with Julie Delpy (some will recall her from "Europa Europa"), a sirenish eccentric with whom he falls in love. A second meeting with Sukowa is also in the cards.

As an Americanized version of Frisch's erstwhile Swiss engineer, Sam Shepard is respectable for being effortless. His slightly goofy quality and one-sided knowledge of kilowatts and hydraulics help take the edge off his cover-boy features. Delpy's intrinsic mystique (not her acting) suggests the mystery heroines of old art films such as "La Dolce Vita."

The movie, however, becomes a literature-paced travelogue that meanders through Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Greece and the United States, for little reason except pristine compositions from cinematographers Yorgos Arvanitis and Pierre L'Homme. Without question, Volker Schloendorff's movie is a failure -- but a moderate one. With a healthy dose of viewer indulgence, and the occasional blind eye to arty excess, there's something well-intentioned and uncommercial to celebrate. It's a failed nice try.

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