Closet Land

You could choke on the hard-sell integrity of this two-character drama. Tackling the political oppression of artistic freedom – in her feature-directing debut, writer Radha Bharadwaj goes out on a limb and opposes it – the story concerns the Woman (Madeleine Stowe), who writes children's books, and the Man (Alan Rickman), who is torturing the Woman to make her confess that her work is subversive to the state. The film is set in an unnamed country – a sure-fire warning sign of solemnity ahead – and the action is confined to a single room, designed by Eiko Ishioka (Mishima).

"We must break your body to win your mind," says the Man, whose methods range from toenail pulling to rib cracking. But the Woman's spirit holds firm. Bharadwaj, a documentary filmmaker in her native India, compares the Woman's resistance to Gandhi's. Along with producer Janet Meyers, cinematographer Bill Pope (Darkman) and others connected with the film, Bharadwaj is a supporter of Amnesty International. Brian Grazer, cochairman (with Ron Howard) of Imagine Films, deserves credit for stepping away from his company's usual commercial fare (Parenthood, Kindergarten Cop) to underwrite such a risky project.

But good intentions are no shortcut to art. Stowe (the target in Stakeout) and Rickman (the terrorist in Die Hard) are fine, forceful actors, but they can't convince us that we're seeing more than a sermon wrapped in a film of stupefying artifice. By talking at us instead of to us, Closet Land locks us out.

From The Archives Issue 600: March 21, 1991