Page 6-Friday, March 23, 1979-The Michigan Daily
The Ann Arbor Film Cooperative presents at MLB 3
Friday, March 23
THE KING OF HEARTS
(Phillippe de Broca, 1967) 7 & 9-MLB3
Our most popular film. A Scottish soldier in WWI is sent to a French town,
evacuated except for an asylum, in which the Germans have planted a time
bomb. The asylum inmates escape, taking on various costumes and roles.
A very funny comedy and anti-war film-the sanity of insanity, and vice
versa. ALAN BATES, GENEVIEYE BUJOLD. In French, with subtitles. Cinema-
Tomorrow: DELIVERANCE & THE GODFATHER, PART I
WIMWENDERS KINGS OF THE ROAD 196
Wim Winders (ALICE IN THE CITIES) is one of the most brilliant, original film-
makers of the "German New Wave," and his KINGS OF THE ROAD is the most
critically acclaimed foreign film of the year 1976, winning the Grand Prize at the
Chicago Film Festival and breaking box office records across Europe. "The King
of the Road" (Rudiger Vogler) travels Germany in his van, repairing movie pro-
jectors. He picks up "Kamikaze," who has just driven his VW into the river, and
they travel the East German border, raising hell and reminiscing about the
women they can't live with or without and singing American rock songs.
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Academy Award Nominee S ACADEMY AWARD
"BEST FOREIGN FILM" ' NOMINATIONS
BEST FILM BEST ACTRESS
OF THE YEAR R EST SCREENPLAY
-National Society of Film Critics Ellen Alan
A GEM! Burstyn Alda
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First time on Campus!.
'THE DEER HUNTER':
A sweeping, djfficult epic film
By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
Language is the light of the mind.
-John Stuart Mill
Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter is
a self-styled American epic of honestly
epic proportions. It is a film that can
safely be labeled "important" without
the dour, ponderous stigma
traditionally attached to that word. The
Deer Hunter fairly throbs with a
passionate, creative energy. It is a
huge, unwieldy, erratic yet often
magnificent work; it's a film that
almost cries out aloud for love, yet in
the last reckoning is grievously,
perhaps fatally flawed by the very
element that makes human beings most
Throughout its three-hour running
time, The Deer Hunter remains won-
drously removed from the
dime-store polemics - of its recent
cinematic counterparts. Though Viet-
nani is the force which transforms the
movie's characters, the war serves
merely as the film's catalyst, not its
motivating force. As Cimino has said,
The Deer Hunter could be about any
war at any time or place; its true sub-
ject is the bonds of human friendship
and love, and how well or badly those
bonds endure when menaced by forces
and events alien to all that is familiar
THE FILM tells the story of five blue
collar friends from a Russian Orthodox
neighborhood in a grimy Pennsylvania
steel mill town. The time is the late
1960's. There's Nick (Christopher
Walken) - boyish, exuberant, sen-
sitive; Stan (John Cazale) - loud,
quirky, insecure; Steven (John
Savage) - young, immature, the
"baby'' of the group; Axel (Chuck
Aspergren) - huge, joyously beer-
guzzling, given to use "fuckin A"nearly
every other sentence.
And there's Michael (Robert De
Niro) - brooding, introspective, a
leader among equls, given to thoughs
and actions the others admit they don't
always understand, though they
respect him most 6f all. .
Michael is obsessed with the notion of
a perfect, self-controlled life in which
courage, loyalty and sacrifice are
preeminent. Michael can live it up with
his buddies, yet some dark element
deep inside sets him apart.
We meet the five friends on Steven's
wedding day. Buoyant, bawdily joyful,
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they plunge into the festivities with a
fervor given ominous scope by the fact
that two days hence, their secure moun-
tain-surrounded camaraderie will be
broken, perhaps forever; Michael,
Steven and Nick are about to depart for
STEVEN'S MARRIAGE seems
tremulous even before it begins: His
bride is already pregnant - by another
man. Yet the close-knit community
whoops it up far into the night, in a
reception, that turns into a kind of
celebration of ethnicity.
In the sobering early-morning hours,
Nick makes Michael - his best friend
- propnise that if anything happens to
him in 'NamjMichael won't leave him
there. Michael promises, and the
the shadow of their friends' absence,
they unite first out of mutual loneliness,
then out of a love they've long felt for
each other, though each was afraid to
admit it. Gradually, Linda brings
Michael back into the world.
Yet what of his two fallen pals? Some
time later (the story's chronology gets
very hazy at this point) Michael finds
Steven, now a near-helpless paraplegic
in a VA hospital. Steven shows him a
drawer full of hundred dollar bills,
which he says arrive every month from
Vietnam. Michael puts two and two
together - Nick is still alive.
Michael hasn't forgotten his promise.
In rather melodramatic fashion he
returns to Saigon, now on the verge of
destruction, to rescue Nick from the
'Cimino seems smitten by the bizarre duality of
what an author once called 'the terrible beauty of
war.' He transmits scenes of absolute and unflin-
ching horror, yet laces them with a strange, almost
perverse lyricism quite unlike any war film that
came before it. '
following morning, the remaining four
friends set out into the mountains for a
final deer hunt. Though the others con-
tinue their drunken reverie, Michael is
consumedby the almost mystic ritual
of the hunt. Now heis a man of steel,
determined to fell his prey with "one
shot" - a symbolic concept expressing
his idea of the perfect existence. "If I
had to die in the mountains, then I'd be
okay," he tells Nick.
MIchael bags his deer, and the group
returns to town late that night. We see
them sitting soberly, their raucousness
muted into sober reflection, as a bar-
tender friend haltingly plays a classical
piece on his piano.
WITHOUT' WARNING, we are in
Vietnam. Separated in battle, Michael,
Steve and Nick are reunited just as they
are being captured by the Viet Cong.
The three are taken to a prison hut
built into a river, where they are forced
to play each other in a game of Russian
roulette with a loaded pistol. It is surely
the most terrifying war sequence ever
filmed, and the ultimate test of fire for
Michael. Calling on all the strength of
mind he possesses, he eventually out-
wits and outguts his captors by means
as savage as they are ingenious.
Yet it becomes a pyrhic victory at
best: Steven is horribly injured in a
botched helicopter escape attempt.
Nick, his mind and senses ripped asun-
der by his grisly ordeal, descends
catatonically into the Saigon under-
world and vanishes.
MICHAEL RETURNS home, alone.
Beset and twisted by his experiences,
he fearfully avoids a welcome-home
party; even when he re-unites with his
remaining friends, he stays more
morose and aloof than ever. Even the
deer hunt brings him no release - he
finds he can no longer bring himself to
Into this aching void steps Linda,
Nick's girlfriend (Meryl Streep). Under
jaws of Hell. Beset by terrified city
dwellers fleeing the onoming enemy,
Michael engages his now-withered,
drug-ravaged friend in a final game of
Russian roulette, which proves to be the
supreme test of harrowingly unselfish
The Deer Hunter is unashamed1ly
complex in concept, and the fact tnat so
many things in it work brilliantly
makes all the more infuriating the
many things that don't. Writer-director
Cimino is blessed by the eye of
cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond, a
free-flung cinematic poet who can per-
form the most herculean feats with a
camera and make them seem ab-
Steven's wedding celebration, oft-
criticized as too long, is carried off
nicely by its dynamic, almost non-stop
vigor. At times the whole affair seems
so ethnic the film almost ceases to look
American, even stylistically; you get
the feeling you're lost in the middle of
some Eisenstein narrative, surrounded
by smiling, singing peasants. The effect
is a bit unsettlingly operatic, but in-
vigorating once you're tuned into it.
But if The Deer Hunter has a
legitimate claim to greatness it lies in
its Vietnam segment, which, quite sim-
ply, contains scenes like none other in
the history of film.
Cimino seems smitten by the bizarre
duality of what an author once called
"the terrible beauty of war." He tran-
smits scenes of absolute and unflin-
ching horror, yet laces them with a
strange, almost perverse lyricism quite
unlike any war film that came before it.
FROM THE safety of a Pennsylvania
barroom, we are suddenly hurled into
the midst of a pitched battle in a Viet-
nam hamlet - no prelude, no warning.
We see Michael stretched out on the
ground with others, apparently dead.
Suddenly he begins to wake up - as if
out of a dream and into a strange and
evil universe. He hears whispering -
an arcane fairy tale gibberish hanging
over his misty perception.
He lifts his head and listens. We see a
figure skirting silently across the grass.
A trap door flings open, and we see a
group of women and children huddled
inside. The man throws an object in
with them, then slams the door shut. A
second later the shelter explodes.
A lone survivor emerges from the
depths, cradling her baby in her arms.
The Cong points his gun at her. Michael
rises, picks up a flame thrower and
immolates the man a second after he
shoots; the mother and child fall dead.
It is a phantasmic ballet of horror, dan-
ced out in the incongruous beauty of the
forest-thatched Vietnam countryside.
A short time later, Michael, Steven,
and Nick find themselves captives in
the river prison. As their agonies
proliferate, the film maintains its
veiled, supranormal quality. The three
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friends stand bound, waist-deep in
water beneath the Cong hut, witness to
the aural horrors of the Russian Roulet-
te game continuing ghoulishly above
Macabre sights surround them:
Through a pounding rain, dead bodies
slide slowly into the water as river rats
swirl about them. A battered GI, strung
up like a Grunewald Christ, stares
spectrally at the trio across the water
THE ROULETTE game becomes a
pageant of sustained, incalculable,
wrenching tension, a test of human
emotion and resourcefulness pushed to
their absolute limits. Through the
chaos, Michael emerges as a tower of
near-demonic resilience - comforting
the hysterical Steven, boosting Nick's
confidence, scheming how to beat his
captors at their own game, then
psyching them out through his own
unleashed yet controlled fury.
Once they've made their escape, the
three men float silently, fearfully down
the river clinging to a huge, gnarled
branch, their twisted faces lumped
together like grotesqueries from a pain-
ting by Breughel or Bosch.
Moments later, Michael and Steven
plunge from the rungs of a GI helicop-
ter back into the river, climaxing a
chilling, failed rescue attempt. Steven
has been badly hurt by the fall; Michael
carries him ever so tenderly onto the
shore, the surrounding forest radiating
a stillness so heavy that one is at once
overwhelmed with the inexorable, un-
predictable sadness of war - a cold god
that destroys man's children with a
Yet all wars must end and most of
their participants return to their
homes, and it is at this point that you
realize The Deer Hunter is about to run
into deep, insoluble trouble.
Some philosophers think that ver-
balization is nearly obsolete and will
someday be scrapped altogether; yet
for the forseeable present language
remains the noblest, most direct.form
of human expression, and an indispen-
sable ingredient for such an exercise in
gritty (though often gorgeous) realism
as The Deer Hunter. And it is here that
this otherwise extraordinary motion
picture falls flat on its face.
I CAN'T RECALL another film which
so glorifies an entrenched verbal inex-
pressiveness. While striving to recap-
ture faithfully an archetypal "blue
collar" idiom, Cimino and his helpers
have managed to produce a script con-
taining not a single line of memorable,
or even insightful dialogue. The film's
characters grope and mumble, sear-
ching plaintively, often loud and
stridently for words to match their
restless feelings. They never succeed,
no matter what the situation.
Linda to Michael upon his return
"I'm fine. How are you?"
"Im fine. I go along, you know, I
work at the market. How're your
Linda asks about' Nick; Michael an-
"He'll be back."
"Henever wrote to me, he never
aMaybe you were out.
Later, Michael greets Axel and Stan;
"How are you guys?"
"So how have you been?"
"Hangin' in there, y'know."
"What's it like being shot?"
The unintentionally Pinteresque ring
of all this might be rewarding in
another time and place, but not in the
presumed American Epic. Much of the
dialogue has the sond of grade B im-
provisation much like the boorish, self-
congratulatory excesses of John
Cassavetes' Husbands, with Cimino's
tongue-tied characters repeating
phrases (often obscene), then breaking
into hysterical giggles of the aren't-we-
RUNNING RAMPANT through it all
is the insulting notion that certain
classes of people are incapable of ex-
pressing themselves with the remotest
touch of eloquence, no; matter how
wrenching the situation, no matter haw
imbedded the stolid ritual of machismo.
See CIMINO'S, Page 7
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