Saccharin Sobs

Places in the Heart; Written and Directed by Robert Benton; Tri-Star Pictures.
by Stephen Macauley

Robert Benton is the man behind Still of the Night and Kramer vs. Kramer. Places in the Heart, his latest film, is set in a small Texas town during the Depres­sion. The subject—like Kramer vs. Kramer—is separation, but this time it is a wife left alone with the kids, after her husband catches a bullet in his chest in the opening scenes. 

At one point, a blind man whom the widow must take in as a boarder in her efforts to stave off foreclosure (naturally) says, “I don’t need your help, and I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.” Yet Places in the Heart seems designed to make us feel sorry for virtually every character in it. It does not succeed. Partly, the problem lies in the blatant symbolism. The film’s language is binary. Something is good (plus) or bad (minus). Benton merely manipulates the signs: the minus of the husband’s death is canceled by the plus of the wife’s tenacity. The cotton picking in the hot sun, which is based on commercials for headache remedies and sunburn ointments, is balanced by the mortgage-paying crop. By the end of the film, the positives and the negatives have canceled each other out, leaving the director only one possible escape: a pointless happy ending. So he brings the dead back to life and destroys whatever realism the film had. 



We are aggrieved by Francois Truf­faut’s passing at a mercilessly premature age. With him goes to the grave one of the most precious literary and artistic schools, French to the core, of viewing man and woman in the light of their frailties, their sweet, shameful secrets, their fleeting sins and minor virtues. It is a tradition of warm skepticism, humane maliciousness, sentimental irony. It assesses human perfectability with a  sorrowful but mocking clind’oeil. Its superb practitioners in culture range from Molière through Abbé Prévost to Alphonse Daudet on the right, Anatole France on the left, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carue in the movies, and—per­haps the last of them—Truffaut. In post­modern Hollywood, Cinecitta, Paris, and Munich, where the current “artistes” sell spasmatic amoebas, moronic butchers, and computerized fornicators as subjects of cinematic “studies,” Truffaut’s death signals the cruel demise of the remnants of humanness in a medium that chose to produce subhumans. But, we believe, his legacy will serve as a manifesto when the time of reckoning for the Huns that ravage culture finally arrives.