January 16, 1995 12:00 PM

Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Stuart Wilson

It’s a stormy, portentous night in an unspecified South American country in this airless adaptation of the acclaimed play by Ariel Dorfman. The phone has just gone dead at a secluded beach house, the power is out, and the owner (Weaver), a gaunt, feral creature, is so wired she almost gives off sparks.

The arrival of her husband (Wilson), the head of the country’s newly formed human rights commission, does little to calm her. She certainly has no sympathy for his tale of woe: While trying to change the car’s flat tire on a deserted road, he found the spare was flat as well. Luckily, a stranger (Kingsley) came by offering a lift. When this good Samaritan stops by to drop off the spare tire, Wilson invites him in for some bourbon and bonhomie.

Weaver, hearing Kingsley’s voice from the next room, stiffens like an animal on the scent. Here, she believes, is the man who tortured her, who repeatedly raped her when, 15 years before, she had been rounded up as a student activist. Blindfolded during her two months of imprisonment and interrogation, Weaver never got a look at her team of tormentors but she knows Kingsley is one of the brutes. She knows by smell, by his speech patterns. Wilson, pointing out that Weaver can’t be certain, urges restraint. She demands justice and revenge—and seems willing to do anything to exact it. The performances are strong, but they can’t disguise the fact that Death and the Maiden is less a play than a polemic. While the movie is often disturbing, it is rarely moving. (R)

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