slie rushes to the body, her father tryingrndesperately to restrain the child lest shernbe shot also. This stretching of time is, ofrncourse, an old film device. Eisensteinrnused it powerfully in 1925 to givernPotemkin its emotional resonance. ButrnRussell has executed it so masterfully thatrnit feels utterly new and deeply moving.rnWe watch this horror through Gates’ eyesrnand can feel his cynicism crack under thernpressure of conscience. Before this moment,rnhis hard, piercing gaze lookedrnstraight ahead, seeing only what concernedrnhim. Now his eyes widen andrnsoften ever so slightly, taking in the awfulrnspectacle before him. Then he winces asrnhis heart overrules his practical judgment.rnHe can’t drive away from this.rnWhat follows is best left unsaid. I onlyrnwant to mention how Russell visuallyrnmanages the cross-cultural encounter betweenrnAmericans and Iraqis. For the firstrnhalf of the film, his washed out, jitteryrnphotography deliberately prevents usrnfrom seeing the Iraqis as individuals.rnThey all blend together as the undifferentiatedrnalien. But later, in an undergroundrnshelter’s darkened interior, shotrnwith a steadied camera, they becomernidentifiable persons. Many speak English.rnSeveral have lived in America.rnThe leader of the resistance solemnly announces,rn”I was at B school in BowlingrnGreen.” Rather than the towel heads andrncamel jockeys of GI argot, the dissidentrnvillagers turn out to be ordinary peoplernunited in their hatred of tyranny and ferventrnin their longing for something resemblingrnAmerican freedom.rnHow the Americans respond to thisrnknowledge becomes the moral burden ofrnthis remarkable film. Will the four kingsrnof the Occident have the nobility of thosernother kings, the three from the Orientrnwho 2,000 years ago came bearing giftsrnrather than stealing them, those goodrnwise men who risked themselves to helprnanother Middle Eastern family escape arnsimilarly vicious tyrant? The film putsrnthis question not only to the protagonistsrnbut also to us in the audience, should werncare to address it. This is the wound andrnthe pressure Russell wants us to feel as wernleave the theater.rnSam Mendes also raises importantrnquesfions in American Beaut}’. Unfortunately,rnhe tries to answer them.rnWe meet Lester Burnham, 42 vearsrnold, no visible scars, only internal. He’srndone a 2()-year stint in the soul-crushingrnmiddle class during which he’s actuallyrniiad to work at an unsatisfiing job to supportrnhis one-child family. “It feels likernI’ve been in a coma,” he tells us. In desperaternneed of inspiration, he fantasizesrnabout Angela (Mena Suvari), his 17-yearoldrndaughter’s friend. He imagines herrnprovocatively unzipping her sweater tornreveal mounds of rose petals which flyrnout and tantalizingly fill the air betweenrnthem. In a film so remarkably appointedrnwith roses, this scene is clearly the centerpiece.rnIt identifies the aptiy named Angelarnas Ijcster’s personal Beatrice, sent tornlead him from the dark wood of his aimlessrnlife to the luminous multifoliate rosernof some secular beatification.rnBut first, Mendes takes us on a Dantesquerntour of the American middle class,rnrevealing it to be an inferno of avarice,rntreacher)’, fear, lust, and self-loathing. Atrnmoments, he succeeds with some strikinglyrnoriginal images, but in the long runrnhe hasn’t the vision —aesthetic orrnmoral—to sustain his conceit.rnBurnham’s particular hell is his marriage.rnHe is disgusted with the shallowethicrnof success that drives his realtorrnwife, Garolyn (Annette Bening), a womanrnso committed to appearances that sherncolor-coordinates her clogs with her gardeningrnshears and smiles tirelessly forrnfear the world may think she is not unwaveringlyrnhappy. “My business is sellingrnan image,” she explains, “and part of it isrnliving that image.” Her happy face stopsrnwell short of the marital bed, however,rnwhich is why poor Lester lusts afterrnthe nubile Angela. Meanwhile, theirrnsullen daughter (Thora Birch) concludesrnthey’re both freaks.rnThe traditional family makes a poorrnshowing here. Consider Lester’s neighbors.rnOn the right, we find a home possessedrnof guns, paranoia, homophobicrnhysteria, voyeurism, and — worst of all — arnpenchant for Ronald Reagan films. Onrnthe left, we find exemplar)’ decency andrninexhaustible reserves of sweetness andrnlight. Here’s the zinger. The rightwardrnranch quarters a retired Marine colonel,rnhis emotionally lobotomized wife, andrntheir voyeur son, while the leftward haciendarnis home to an unfailingly charmingrnhomosexual couple.rnMaybe Mendes thinks this is flatteringrnto homosexuals, but among those I countrnas my friends, I don’t know any who enjoyrnbeing used as agitprop to travesty therntraditional family. Mendes’s aim is clearlyrnto expose the family as the front of repression,rnhypocrisy, and self-deception,rnan institution that perverts our betterrnselves.rnWhat is our better self? Lester finds hisrnthrough the guidance of an adolescentrnVirgil (Wes Benfley) who sells him potrnwhile giving him lessons in living for thernmoment. He’s so taken with the lad’s doas-rnyou-will free spirit that he gushes,rn”You’ve become my personal hero.” Sorntiiis is the answer! Forget those drearyrnmiddle-class blues and follow the naturalrnwisdom of untutored youth. Liberationrnthrough sex, drugs, and rock and roll!rnMy, how salvation has changed sincernDante sought the rose of paradise. Thatrnthis film is both a critical and popularrnsuccess reveals how many of us remainrnlost in the darker woods of America.rnGeorge McCartney teaches English atrnSt John’s University.rnFOREIGN AFFAIRSrnBanking on Boris—rnPart IIrnby Sergey BerdyaevrnThe news for both the “Father of RussianrnDemocracy” and his “friendrnBill” was equally bad in the second weekrnof September. A wave of bombings hadrnkilled some 300 Russians, murdered byrnan elusive terrorist gang as they slept inrntheir beds (with some people pointing anrnaccusing finger at the Kremlin; seern”Banking on Boris” in the Decemberrn1999 Chronicles). The war against Islamicrnmilitants in the North Caucasus wasrndragging on, and the Swiss investigationrninto the Mabetex scandal was uncoveringrnevidence of links with the Bank of New-rnYork (BNY) money-laundering scandal.rnMeanwhile, back in Washington, Congressrnwas preparing for hearings on thernBNY case, which President Clinton’s opponentsrnare sure to use as a pretext for anrnembarrassing “Who lost Russia?” politicalrnbash, while Clinton’s anointed successor,rnAl Gore, was in deep trouble, withrnpolls showing presidei-itial wannabesrnGeorge W. Bush and Bill Bradley bothrnthumping him. Thus, the two beleagueredrnpresidents had occasion to talkrnover their misfortunes and, perhaps, engagernin the blame game, bofli seeing thernother as the source of his own don-iesticrnJANUARY 2000/47rnrnrn