Lianna (John Sayles / U.S., 1983):

Sappho’s Muse, her house and grief, in John Sayles’s 16mm New Jersey. ("So my old lady’s a dyke," the son shrugs. "Big deal.") The titular college hausfrau (Linda Griffiths) starts out as passivity personified, meekly waffling around "faculty land" while film-professor hubby (Jon DeVries) specializes in sarcasm and coed-fucking. Her own affair is with a poised psychology tutor (Jane Hallaren), staged with nervous delicacy -- a childhood crush remembered, bodies and faces slowly inching closer on a sofa, bluish half-light and murmurs. Discovery forces her to leave home and family, though not before the husband, furious at her "unnatural act," spells out the situation’s gender politics: "No matter how much you think you can hurt me, I can hurt you more." Out on her own, the woman who "grew up the day after the wedding" has to start again from zero. Charting sexual exploration as key to a half joyous, half painful independence, Sayles balances anecdotal stiffness with a keen interest in people and their unguarded moments. More than any classroom prattling about editing and the power of celluloid, his cinematic growth here is measured in the communication of sensations: In the extended nightclub dance, in the subjective shots that embody the protagonist’s discovery as she happily checks out the femmes in the street, in the way the lovers, unable to touch at a public swimming pool, whisper tactile feelings to each other. There’s even a stab at impressionism towards the end, with the Griffiths-Hallaren breakup-sex scene intercut with some interpretative squirming scored to Otis Redding’s "I’ve Been Loving You Too Long." Sayles the actor pops up as a strapping campus wolf to hit on his heroine, but Sayles the director keeps a gallant distance, scrupulously attuned to a woman searching for happiness on her own terms. With Jo Henderson, Jessica MacDonald, Jesse Solomon, Stephen Mendillo, and Maggie Renzi.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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