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Welsh Ways: Nia Roberts fights against the gloom in 'Solomon and Gaenor.'

Rolling Tundra

The bleakness gets laid on with a trowel in 'Solomon and Gaenor'

By Richard von Busack

IF YOU'VE EVER WONDERED what the Welsh and the Jews had in common, see Solomon and Gaenor. It seems that people who have that hard "ch" sound in their languages really ought to respect one another--it takes a tough, virile palate to be able to rouse up those throat-clearing consonants. Sadly, this gloomy melodrama of the old school, set in the coal country in Wales around the year 1900 (during the winter, naturally), shows intolerance leading to a miniature Welsh version of Kristallnacht. The film, in English with Yiddish and Welsh passages, was nominated as the English entry in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars last year--a good indication of the Academy's senior-citizen tastes.

Solomon and Gaenor is about the star-crossed love affair between a petite Welsh lass named Gaenor (Nia Roberts) from a coal-mining family and Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd), a Jewish son of a shopkeeper. The lovers just miss a chance (I think it was about six chances missed, as far as I could count) for happiness. Director/writer Paul Morrisson lays on the tragedy with a trowel and then refills the bucket. The golden lighting in the love scenes and the finale with Solomon trudging across the tundra, mile after mile, blows the essentially artificial quality of this entertainment. Blame the pernicious influence of Thomas Hardy and David Lean for this kind of movie--a tragic spectacle with picturesque landscapes.

The advertisement says, "Their only crime was being in love," and you know it's the audience that will pay the penalty. You've seen it all. You know that soon after the soft-core ballet love scenes with the Celtic music softly playing in the hayloft, Gaenor will be puking in the morning (into the pigpen; that's the Hardy touch). That the ham-handed older brother, who has spent the movie looking for something worthy of his fists, will give Solomon a good long beating. Need more foreshadowing? The brute (played by Mark Lewis Jones) even has a caveman name: he is called "Crad." (I kept remembering the family dinner scene in Annie Hall--whenever we see Crad hulking around the pub, I could practically hear Woody Allen saying, "And this one here, he's a real Jew-hater.")

Great movies are always a little funny, but this one is as solemn as an owl, although there is an accidentally humorous moment: Gaenor somehow magically picks up the ability to say "Sholom Aleichem" to her lover when he wakes up. You can call it insensitivity when this movie leaves you not just cheerless but tearless--but I think it takes a certain amount of sensitivity to recognize Solomon and Gaenor for the creaky, archaic picture it is.

Solomon and Gaenor (R; 102 min.), directed and written by Paul Morrisson, photographed by Nina Kellgren and starring Ioan Gruffudd and Nia Roberts, opens Friday at the Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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