(Jon Amiel, USA/France, 1993)


Some films have a narrative premise that is so powerful, and so full of possibilities, that it is almost impossible to muck it up, no matter how weak the movie may be in some areas.


The producers of Sommersby obviously knew they had found a premise of this calibre when they saw the French film The Return of Martin Guerre (1982). Add two charismatic stars (Richard Gere and Jodie Foster), an able director (Jon Amiel) and an elegiac score by Danny Elfman, and not too much can go wrong.


Nonetheless, bringing out the resonances of this story required some real art and craft from Amiel and his collaborators. They made an inspired choice: in this tale of a man (Gere) who returns to his community and family after a long absence in wartime, the point-of-view remains firmly with his wife (Foster). She is caught in a delicious, nerve-wracking dilemma: she suspects he is not the same man she married, but she likes this new guy a lot better than the old one.


Some passages of the film – particularly those devoted to the drama of the rural community and the rise of the Klu Klux Klan – are not as absorbing. Here, the focus of the story shifts uneasily to the husband and the question of his social identity, giving Gere his requisite grandstanding scenes.


However, as soon as Amiel gets his stars back into the bedroom, all the fantasies and tensions of the central love story explode and flower once more.

Amiel: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Entrapment, Queen of Hearts


MORE Foster: Anna and the King, Flightplan, Little Man Tate, Nell, Panic Room

© Adrian Martin November 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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