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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Warm But Patchy 'American Quilt'

Good intentions don't make good movies, but good performances can almost always keep well-intentioned sap from falling prey to its own worst excesses. Such is the case with "How to Make an American Quilt," the 1996 film now available on video in Moscow.

"Quilt" stars Winona Ryder as a 26-year-old graduate student who has a problem with commitment. She's working on her third thesis, having abandoned the first two when the topics bored her. She's engaged to a nice, down-to-earth guy, but fears the foreclosure of possibilities that marriage represents. She repairs to her grandmother's house in Northern California to ponder her situation and finish her thesis. There, while struggling with a new temptation, she encounters her grandmother's quilting bee, a circle of older women who, one by one, relate the stories of their troubled lives and loves, passing on thedwisdom of the tribe.

Taken as a whole, "Quilt" is contrived and episodic; if it were a quilt, there'd be misaligned patterns and gaping holes in the fabric. But many of its individual elements are well done, particularly the strong performances by the older actors: Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Jean Simmons and especially the poet Maya Angelou, magisterial and moving as the guiding spirit of the circle. Ryder is also good, as usual, as the bright, questing emblem of young womanhood. Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse imbues the film with a ripe, rich visual style that reinforces the sense of ritual and parable.

In the end, "Quilt" makes its points far too obviously; and the points themselves are hardly subtle insights into our intractable human dilemmas. But though the movie errs on the side of caution, its good intentions -- to treat love's difficulties with clarity and humor -- are, when wed to such fine performances, enough to provide a piece of decent (in every sense of the word) entertainment.

Available from Video Force, Tel. 238-3136.