Picks and Pans Review: Madame Sousatzka

updated 10/17/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Prepare for a shock. In her first movie since winning the Academy Award for 1983's Terms of Endearment Shirley MacLaine eradicates all traces of glamour. As Madame Sousatzka, a piano teacher of Russian parentage living in London, she wears figure-disfiguring cloaks, jangly jewelry and cake-till-it-flakes makeup. Frankly, she looks a fright. But you can't take your eyes off MacLaine; she's dynamite. Her new student is a 15-year-old Indian prodigy, charmingly acted by newcomer Navin Chowdhry. The boy's divorced mother, the beautiful Indian film star Shabana Azmi, wants to exploit her son's talent for quick profit. Sousatzka, insisting there are no shortcuts to artistic integrity, is horrified. Director John {Sunday, Bloody Sunday) Schlesinger is back in form after his fiasco with the fright flick The Believers. Working with the excellent Ruth Prawer (A Room with a View) Jhabvala, his co-screenwriter, Schlesinger keeps the movie free of cant and sloshy uplift. This is witty, sophisticated entertainment with a splendid cast that includes Dame Peggy (A Passage to India) Ashcroft as MacLaine's landlady and a terrific Twiggy as a pop singer tenant who introduces the boy to sex and her agent-lover, played by her real-life groom, Leigh Lawson. It is Lawson who precipitates a crisis when he makes the boy a concert offer he can't refuse. The film abounds in the glorious music of Chopin, Schumann and Brahms. But it is MacLaine—funny and ferocious—who breaks your heart without turning her character soft. Long after the movie ends, the insistent, insinuating melody of her performance lingers on. (PG-13)

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