November 25, 1991 12:00 PM

Nicole Garcia, Brigitte Rouan

This sensual, bittersweet offering from France focuses on the lives of three sisters in the last days of French colonial rule in postwar Algeria. Garcia, Rouan (also the director) and Marianne Basler portray women whose seemingly idyllic lives are shadowed and finally shattered—by the revolution they choose to ignore until the rattle of submachine guns intrudes on their placid existence.

These are women who dismiss Grace Kelly, the newly married Princess of Monaco, as a “rich bricklayer’s daughter” and who pout at one of the sister’s weddings, saying “the rebels are spoiling our fan.”

Rouan, a veteran French actress (La Petite Allumeuse, Charlie Dingo) making her feature-film debut as a director, tells her melancholy story in a triptych, with the three overlapping segments recording each sister’s point of view. Her style is deliberately elliptical, as each segment fills in telling details that explain events previously recounted. Garcia, who dances a sensuous paso doble with a handsome officer, then berates herself for her own desires, is slowly destroyed by illness and her naval-officer husband’s presumed demise. Still, she and her sisters bravely sing patriotic songs at their piano and cling overlong to cherished beliefs of birthright. “It’s lucky heaven exists,” Garcia says, “or we’ll all go mad.” Rouan, whose real father was an officer declared missing at sea, observes their loves, their cruelties and at last their tragedies with a cool, unsparing eye. (Unrated)

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