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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Mindwalk’: Alluring but Limited Look at World

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Talk is never cheap in movies, but since the 1980s, it’s become increasingly rare and shabby. That’s why “Mindwalk” is somewhat remarkable. Freely adapted by physicist and popular science author Fritjof Capra from his 1982 “The Turning Point,” it’s a movie, like Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre” or Eric Rohmer’s “Ma Nuit Chez Maud,” that’s about conversation.

Most of the film consists of a discourse on the world, between a trio roaming the French isle of Mont St. Michel. The talk takes place in the hours before the tide cuts off the island and the participants are obvious “types”: a vacationing Democratic senator (Sam Waterston), an expatriate poet (John Heard) and a physicist who’s cut herself off from society (Liv Ullmann).

As they wander along the terraces and parapets of the stark medieval castle that rises from Mont St. Michel’s granite plain--and through the chapels, halls and even torture chambers--the scientist tells the poet and politician about her views of the world.

She believes that it’s holistic and interconnected, forever in flux and movement. She speaks disdainfully of the impasse and wreckage wrought by centuries of the industrial revolution, patriarchal governments and, especially, by the Cartesian view of the world as a mechanistic device: a view she thinks inimical, at times, to humanity, the environment, and the meaning and beauty of life itself.

She’s clearly proselytizing; they react predictably. The poet is receptive but amused; the politician wary, then eager to recruit her. And, as the tide rises, the trio, like the world around them, seem to become part of a vast web of relationships.

But is it really a dialogue? The scientist’s ideas are the same views Capra espouses in “The Turning Point” and “The Tao of Physics”: an ecological, conservationist, feminist agenda close to that of the Greens. And that may be the limitation of “Mindwalk.”

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Though constructed as a trialogue, even a Socratic one, it often seems closer to a monologue among three elements of Capra’s personality: the physicist (his avocation), the poet (his literary skills) and the politician (his desire to transform the world). At the end, the poet and the politician are full of wonder, but the scientist is essentially unchanged--even though her daughter (Ione Skye) tries to promote a romance with the senator.

Ullmann, Waterston and Heard are such expert actors that they’re able to bend the script’s seeming didacticism: Ullmann by a quiet intensity that recalls her best roles for Ingmar Bergman; Waterston by a halting, gravelly, almost ingenuous phrasing that suggests Jerry Brown trying to be Jimmy Stewart; and Heard by a flow of spontaneous wisecracks, only some of which sound scripted. If the levels of personality aren’t too deeply in the script, the actors supply them.

The film was directed by Capra’s younger brother, Bernt--making his directorial debut, after working as a production designer on films like “Bagdad Cafe.” He’s got a designer’s eye; it’s an unusually good-looking movie. The backgrounds of sea, sky and castle not only give greater presence to the conversation--as does Philip Glass’ minimalist score--they act as a metaphor for the kind of society Ullmann says is lost.

Obviously, some people will be scornful: both of “Mindwalk” (MPAA rated PG) and ecological movements in general. Remember Ronald Reagan’s cracks about acid rain and “if you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all”?

Still, “Mindwalk” might be a candidate for cult-movie status, and perhaps that’s good. Its targets--environmental wreckers and robotized governments--are ripe.

There’s only one problem: Just as this movie’s conversation suggests one man talking to himself ardently, the often excellent “Mindwalk” is most likely to appeal to people who already agree with it.

‘Mindwalk’

Liv Ullmann: Sonia Hoffman

Sam Waterston: Jack Edwards

John Heard: Thomas Harriman

Ione Skye: Kit Hoffman

A Mindwalk Productions/Atlas Company presentation, released by Triton pictures. Director Bernt Capra. Producer Adrianna Aj Cohen. Executive producer Klaus Lintschinger. Screenplay by Floyd Byars, Fritjof Capra. Cinematographer Karl Kases. Editor Jean Claude Piroue. Costumes Bambi Breakstone. Music Philip Glass. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG


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