May 05, 1997 12:00 PM

Judy Davis, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, F. Murray Abraham, Richard Roxburgh

In this dizzyingly original comedy from Australia, Davis plays a zealous Communist trying to bestir the masses in 1949. Seeking guidance, she writes impassioned letters to Soviet strongman Josef Stalin. Taking a break from browsing through American movie magazines, Stalin reads her missives and invites her up to Moscow. The two have a one-night stand, he drops dead of a heart attack, and she returns home to Sydney only to realize that she’s pregnant. The film follows Davis and her son as he grows up and, eventually, comes to reject everything she stands for. It’s an audacious premise, made even more so by first-time director-screenwriter Peter Duncan’s shooting Children as a quasi-documentary, sometimes using real period footage. As the twisted Mother Courage, Davis, whose films include A Passage to India and Husbands and Wives, adds yet another incisive portrayal to her brilliant career. Her character may be a comic monster, but Davis finds the fiercely real woman lurking in there. She gets great support from her three leading men, including Neill as a double agent who may have fathered her son, Oscar-winner Rush (Shine) as the decent, apolitical guy who weds her, and Abraham, who is hilarious as a preening Stalin. Duncan can’t quite sustain his giddy inventiveness for the whole film—things trail off—but Children is a singular debut. (R)

You May Like