Wednesday April 22, 1998

     While on a visit to Jerusalem, a beautiful American woman (Victoria Foyt) joins a lovely older woman (Aviva Marks) she has never before met for lunch on a cafe terrace overlooking the ancient city. By the time the older woman has told her a story of love lost, Henry Jaglom has caught us up in the sophisticated world of his romantic fable "Deja Vu," in which he plays genuine sentiment against the artifices of traditional romantic comedy.
     "Deja Vu," which he wrote with Foyt, his wife, represents a new level of accomplishment for Jaglom. "Deja Vu" has the easy elegance and verve of an Astaire-Rogers musical, yet its people speak as spontaneously as in his earlier, more obviously improvised films. There's indeed a palpable tension between spontaneity and formality in "Deja Vu" that breathes fresh life into the classic Hollywood romance. Such intimate yet large-cast pictures as "Eating" have attracted a loyal Jaglom following for years, but "Deja Vu" has a polish and a universal appeal that could make "Deja Vu" the independent filmmaker's most popular venture yet.
     Jaglom aptly calls "Deja Vu" a film about love and destiny and leave us thinking that true love is destiny--provided you have the courage to follow your heart. That's no small issue as Foyt's character, Dana, swiftly learns. In a mesmerizing manner, the older woman tells Dana of a romance in which she fell for an American military man she met in Paris, apparently in the '50s or '60s, and who promised to send for her once he was back home. He marries another, as does she eventually, but she still pines for her great lost love.
     She presses on Dana an exquisite butterfly clip, set with rubies and diamonds, one of a pair, that was a gift from her lost love, who was to give her the clip's mate on her arrival in America. When Dana excuses herself from the table momentarily she returns only to discover that the woman has vanished.
     Due in London after a Paris stopover with Alex (Michael Brandon), her fiance, Dana is thrown as much by what her mystery lady has had to say as by her abrupt departure. Pausing to visit the famous White Cliffs of Dover after her channel crossing, she notices a good-looking young man, Sean (Stephen Dillane), painting a seascape. They lock eyes and boom!, it's love at first sight. What they experience is way beyond mere sexual attraction; it's nothing less than a cosmic convergence of two spirits.
     What to do about it takes up the rest of the picture. Sean is happily married to Claire (Glynis Barber), and Dana doesn't want to hurt Alex, even though she now sees him as rather ordinary.
     Jaglom gets away with piling on coincidence upon coincidence because he expresses so fully what's at stake for Dana and Sean and those they care about. These potential lovers are intelligent, mature, considerate people who feel they must think of others and strive to do the right thing. The more they struggle against their emotions, the more fate throws them together, principally as guests in a spacious old townhouse around London that is the home of a witty, longtime married couple, Fern (Anna Massey) and John (Noel Harrison), who, wouldn't you know it, turn out to be friends of both Sean and Dana.
     Massey and Harrison are skilled scene-stealers, and they give security, stability and family life a very good name indeed. On the other hand, John's sister Skelly (Vanessa Redgrave) believes in following your heart no matter what the price. An inveterate wanderer, Skelly has a lively mother (Rachel Kempson, Redgrave's real-life mother) and a dashing suitor (Vernon Dobtcheff) who wish she would come to London more often and stay longer.
     Jaglom's cast glows under his clearly affectionate yet always controlled guidance, and Foyt is more radiant than ever. Her Dana may be on an emotional seesaw, but she always has the dignity and poise of classic leading ladies--she brings to mind Kay Francis, not only in appearance but in presence as well.
     "Deja Vu's" photogenic locales gives Jaglom's longtime cameraman Hanania Baer a terrific opportunity to give the film both beauty and scope. But what gives this picture its special kick is the suspense it generates; you really are kept guessing what Dana and Sean are going to do with their lives right up to its final moments.


Deja Vu, 1998. PG-13, for language, brief sexuality and a scene of drug use. A Rainbow Film Co. and Revere Entertainment presentation. Director-editor Henry Jaglom. Producer John Goldstone. Screenplay by Jaglom and Victoria Foyt. Cinematographer Hanania Baer. Costumes Rhona Russell. Music Gaili Schoen. Production designer-art director Helen Scott. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. Victoria Foyt as Dana. Stephen Dillane as Sean. Vanessa Redgrave as Skelly. Glynis Barber as Claire. Michael Brandon as Alex. Noel Harrison as John. Anna Massey as Fern.