Vital Signs

Intimations of Mortality

The Silence of the Lambs
Produced by Kenneth Ull, Edward Saxon, and Ron Bozman
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Ted Talley
From the novel by Thomas Harris
Released by Orion

Open Doors
Produced by Angelo Rizzoli
Directed by Gianni Amelio
Written by Vicenzo Cerami and Mr. Amelio
From the novel by Leonardo Sciascia
Released by Orion Classics

Honesty in movie-reviewing is a giddy business, which is what I suppose Robert Warshow meant when he wrote that the most difficult thing a movie critic has to do is "admit he was there." What do you do when you catch yourself liking some obviously contrived and even stupid piece of kitch? How do you convey accurately the kitchiness that was also, in its dopey or manipulative way, engaging and effective? Even more awkwardly, what do you do if you find yourself wool-gathering, even dreaming, having dozed off for a bit? Do you go ahead and review your dreams?

Just short of that absurd extremity is the response required by the kind of movie that plays to basic assumptions that may never actually be specified but that are obviously in operation. If the appeal of the movie depends on some kind of mythopoetic engineering, it can be important to try to make explicit and coherent these peculiar assumptions, not necessarily because the excellence...

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