CINEMA: The Breeders

handmaid.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC If you think the McCain/Palin ticket would be a nightmare for reproductive rights, this month’s Andrew’s Video Vault brings to life a pair of disturbing visions that imagine the worst of what such a future could look like. Rain Without Thunder, the rarer of the features, is still unavailable on DVD.  This early nineties film brings us to the year 2040 when a young girl and her mother are imprisoned for procuring a European abortion after America has descended into a Theocratic State.  Filmed in a pseudo-documentary style where actors address the camera directly, the film lays out a scarily rational scenario where religious pressure to name a fetus a being with full constitutional rights opens the avenue to prosecute pregnant women as kidnappers.  The politics are well thought-out, too bad the characters are blank slates; regardless of one’s politics these fretting females are given as much form as the rhetoricspouters in any propaganda tool.  While you get to see first-rate actors like Betty Buckley, Linda Hunt and Steve Zahn (in his first feature) deliver some nice soliloquies, the film would have benefited from letting at least a trace of humor seep into a its oppressively somber script.  We still found some giggles, like when the characters would use fake futro-slang like “smurge,” but the laughs were ultimately smothered by the sick believability of the basic premise.  Setting it a full fifty years in the future seems optimistic.

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ANDREW’S VIDEO VAULT @ The Rotunda 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA
Thursday September 11th 2008  8PM Free!

RAIN WITHOUT THUNDER (1992, directed by Gary Bennett, 85 minutes, U.S.)
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (1990, directed by Volker Schlöndorff, 108 minutes, U.S.)

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Perhaps Rain Without Thunder‘s most depressing scenes are with Linda Hunt, playing an activist so rainwithoutthunderposter_1.jpgcompromised that the best she can imagine for the women of her time are limited rights over their bodies.  She’s a member of the Atwood Society, obviously referencing the 1985 novel A Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s modern feminist classic about a dystopian future where an American Theocracy enslaves all fertile women.  Adapted on a tight budget in 1990, A Handmaid’s Tale‘s controversial themes made it a difficult production to get off the ground (there was a fear of courting a similar religious reception as Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ caught in 1988) and its ultimate reception was pretty tepid.  Funny how having a religion flaunting administration that finds legal justification for kidnapping and torture can make a near twenty year old film about authoritarian rule suddenly seem so of the moment.

Natasha Richardson (fresh off of playing another kidnappee, Patty Hearst) is rounded up trying to hop the border and sent to be a red-veiled concubine at the palace of General Fred’s (RobertDuvall, all cocky and creepy).  Faye Dunaway is the General’s wife and Victoria Tennant is the demagogue who rules the women in a pique of religious fervor.  All the politics of how a Theocracy enslaves women from the evening’s first film are present here but Atwood has the good sense to slip a pulpy story in there as well, full of rebel undergrounds, suicide missions and after hours sex clubs.  You may wish directorSchlöndorff (who had directed the stunning adaptation of Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum a decade earlier) would have brought a little more stylish hand to the design, yet he delivers with efficiency the cold chill of watching your fellow citizens forced into line and made to march.

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