Picks and Pans Review: Heat and Dust

updated 09/26/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Set in the India of past and present, Heat and Dust has plenty of both eras, though it's a bit short on narrative drive. But then atmosphere has always been the key element in the films of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The trio's collaborations, including The Householder and The Europeans, all would have a lot of catching up to do to achieve a snail's pace. Still, the lulling sensuality of Heat and Dust may cast a spell on patient filmgoers not weaned on Spielberg pacing. Julie Christie plays a modern Englishwoman obsessed by the scandalous past of her great-aunt (Greta Scacchi). The aunt had come to India in the 1920s as the bride of a stuffy British civil servant (Christopher Cazenove), and had run off with an Indian prince (Shashi Kapoor). Determined to understand what got into Auntie, Christie travels to India to research the facts and gets hooked on a married Indian guide (Zakir Hussain). The film flashes back and forth between both stories as the mystery unravels over a very slow 130 minutes. Christie, who could command attention clad in sackcloth and ashes (her wardrobe's not much better here), helps the time pass. And newcomer Scacchi makes the aunt a figure of true beauty and dignity. But it's India's reigning superstar, Shashi Kapoor (he's done 210 films), who is called upon to represent the seductiveness and the hypnotic pull of his country. He's just not up to the taskā€”at least by Western standards. Pudgy, perhaps from too many trips to the tandoor, Kapoor sports an inane grin, a charmless manner and a voice like Yoda. Why he's considered such a hunk in his own country is the film's biggest mystery. (R)

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