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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Green Card': At Long Last, a True Love Story : Film: Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell have a special chemistry missing in the romance department of many recent features.

TIMES FILM CRITIC

Where’s a romantic to go these days? To “Misery,” to check out a real prisoner of love? To the chemistry-less “Havana” or the romantically inert “Russia House,” a profligate waste of two of the screen’s most soulful sex symbols?

A moviegoer starved for tenderness might just consider “Green Card,” (selected theaters in San Diego County) an effortlessly engaging love story whose ace in the hole is the almost indecent magnetism of Gerard Depardieu.

Peter Weir, the film’s writer-director-producer, wrote “Green Card” especially for Depardieu with what seems a seismographic understanding of the actor’s warring qualities: brutishness and delicacy; elegance and scruffiness; innocence and worldliness; masculinity and femininity.

Depardieu plays this hand-tailored character with presence enough to stop a tank, which may make “Green Card” his English-language breakthrough for Americans who have somehow missed his almost 70 foreign-language films.

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His foil here is Andie MacDowell, whose projection of tremulous virtue verges on anachronism--she seems to belong to the era of the blush and the fan. Weir may think so too--he’s named her Bronte, one of a big family whose members have all been given writer’s names. Bronte’s career is horticulture and therein lies the crime that cheerfully opens the movie.

She’s fallen in love with an Upper East Side apartment whose secret is its roof greenhouse, magnificent but tragically neglected. The fussy, elderly apartment-board members, however, want only a married couple. On this side, there is Depardieu’s George Faure, a sometimes composer who needs a green card to remain and work in the States. With a nod from the agreeable screenwriter, it’s done.

Naturally, Bronte brings the neglected apartment to life, transforming the solarium, planting her roof garden, bustling around root-bound tree ferns. Naturally, Immigration rings Bronte’s doorbell within weeks of her moving in--and after her explanation to her nosy neighbors (Jessie Keosian, in particular) about her husband’s trips to Africa. And naturally, her lawyer’s advice is that she must find George and the two of them must appear to be man and wife, sharing the apartment for a spell of high-intensity cramming before an in-depth Immigration interview.

A soulful Frenchman, a skittish, beautiful American--together. Think you can predict what happens? Then you’ve underestimated Peter Weir.

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He seems to have written the role as much for MacDowell as Depardieu. As opposed to George’s upbringing in the Paris streets, Bronte is the quintessential New York romantic idealist. She dresses out of the Clifford and Wills catalogue: coarse straw hats, flowered flannel nightgowns, not a waistline in sight. Sports a boyfriend (Gregg Edelman) of impeccable dullness. The portrait of Bronte is given an extra dimension by “Green Card’s” impeccable production design (Wendy Stites), art direction (Christopher Nowak) and costumes (Marilyn Matthews) which illuminate every facet of her character. In a season of towering design achievements--"The Sheltering Sky,” “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “Godfather Part III"--this small-scale but no less perfect work seems worthy of special attention.

George is very nearly the bull in Bronte’s china shop--his cigarettes, industrial strength coffee and sheer bulky masculinity stir emotions in her that she thinks of as distaste. Yet on some level he’s broken through her implacable “niceness.”

He’s also French catnip to Bronte’s closest friend Lauren (Bebe Neuwirth), who impulsively drags him to a small dinner party her mother is giving--just a dozen of New York’s richest and most powerful movers and shakers. It sets the scene for Depardieu’s funniest moment and most inspired bit of improvisation.

Depardieu and MacDowell seem to share an uncommon honesty and generosity of spirit. So as the sexual tension between their characters grows, their scenes together are charmingly open and uncompetitive. The sense is that if these two ever become lovers, it will be because they have first become friends. On that startling note, in today’s climate of explicit, loveless love, the film floats to its heady conclusion.

‘Green Card’

Gerard Depardieu: George

Andie MacDowell: Bronte

Bebe Neuwirth: Lauren

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Gregg Edelman: Phil

Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures. Executive producer Edward S. Feldman. Co-producer Jean Gontier, Duncan Henderson. Screenplay-producer, director Peter Weir. Camera Geoffrey Simpson. Production design Wendy Stites. Editor William Anderson. Music Hans Zimmer. Art director Christopher Nowak. Set decorator John Anderson, Ted Glass. Sound Pierre Gamet. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (profanity).


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