Television Reviews : A Communications Gap in 'Stones for Ibarra'

Harriet Doerr's prize-winning novel, "Stones for Ibarra," is hardly typical TV-movie fodder.

It's the story of an American husband (Keith Carradine) and wife (Glenn Close) who move to a small Mexican town and reopen the copper mine that was run by the husband's grandfather.

Yes, the husband develops leukemia--a sure-fire subject for TV-movieland. But "Stones for Ibarra" is really about the wife, and her developing consciousness of the culture that surrounds her. This is no disease-of-the-week film.

Undaunted, producers Herbert Brodkin and Robert Berger went ahead and turned Doerr's short but rich novel into a "Hallmark Hall of Fame," airing tonight at 9 on CBS (Channels 2 and 8). While it's an honorable effort, it feels secondhand, even fake.

One problem is the language. Everyone speaks English--even when the matter at hand is a Spanish lesson. Here is a movie that demands to be subtitled (a process that is apparently considered too arcane for the mass audience). This story is not just about Americans living abroad; it's about the communications gap between two cultures. It's hard to appreciate that gap when everyone speaks the same language.

Ernest Kinoy's script sometimes magnifies the artificiality of the language by translating Doerr's third-person narration into dialogue. In her first scene, poor Glenn Close has to say, "Memories are like corks left out of bottles. They swell. They no longer fit." The line reads well in the book, but hearing it out loud immediately tags this woman as terribly pretentious.

Whole scenes, especially two that explore villagers' personal histories, seem yanked out of context and overwrought. The script invariably trims much of the book's detail, and the visual substitutes--the faces of the actors and the pretty scenery--are not adequate.

In fact, while cinematographer Mike Fash caught a couple of breathtaking shots, the Ibarra set is too picture-postcard pretty. The film was shot in Tucson, not in Mexico. Jack Gold directed.

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