Strangeness in love

20th October 1995 at 01:00
Pocahontas (U) Carrington (18) L'Appat (The Bait) (18) The Neon Bible (18) Robin Buss on Pocahontas and other recent releases.

The latest Disney full-length cartoon purports to tell the story of John Smith and the Indian, Pocahontas, though even the film-makers would not pretend that history had given them anything more than inspiration: you don't need to be over-pedantic to feel that something is wrong with a ship leaving the port of London in 1607, flying the Union Jack - and this is before we reach the opening credits.

The rest is equally schematic, with the English governor flagged "baddie" and the Native Americans "ecologically sound", without further reference to the historical record. Pocahontas (in reality aged about 12 when she met John Smith) is the dominant one in the relationship, and it is she who manages to avert a war between their two peoples.

Of course, you would hardly expect Disney to make a film preaching Hate Your Neighbour or Pollute! Pollute!. In Pocahontas, Rousseau is rewritten for the New Age, in a pre-Colombian paradise where life's lessons are inscribed in the bend of a river or on the bark of a tree. It seems a dull place, incidentally, with little to do except pick corn and wait for the wind to rustle your hair. No wonder Pocahontas is excited to meet John Smith.

However, the most exceptional feature of the film is its visual style. Gone are the raw colours and bold shapes that one associates with the classic Disney cartoon, in favour of a palette dominated by pastel blues and greens, turquoise and pink, replaced by angry reds at times of conflict. You might have expected the artists to be inspired by early paintings of the New World, but there is no evidence of that; and, with less emphasis than before on business involving the minor characters, the movie may take Disney in a new direction.

Pocahontas avoids the predictable happy ending, subordinating individual emotions to the cause of racial harmony. Two adult, European films also take an unconventional slant on love. In Carrington, the affair between the young painter (Emma Thompson) and the homosexual biographer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) unfolds against the sort of English rural background that you associate with the films of Merchant and Ivory, but this only serves to emphasise its strangeness. In Bertrand Tavernier's disturbing new film, The Bait, Marie Gillain plays an oddly disconnected young woman whose boyfriend decides to commit murder in order to make the money he needs to start up in business in America. Nathalie allows rich men to take her home, then opens their doors to Eric, without fully accepting that he will be driven to kill as well as to rob them; afterwards, she succeeds in wiping the events from her mind, like someone unable to see beyond an eternal present. Neither of these two streetwise youngsters has apparently grasped the fact that the rich nowadays don't keep cash around the house.

Even though Terence Davies' new film is set in America and adapted from a novel (by John Kennedy Toole), it deals with the director's familiar themes of religion and repression, merely switching the action from Liverpool to a stereotypical version of the Deep South. Those who have seen his earlier films will also be familiar with the deep pessimism, slow pace and lingering camera, which seems to freeze on every shot for twice as long as it needs to. The Neon Bible is the sort of film that puts audiences off art-house movies.

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