Searching for a common theme in writer/director Michael Radford's work -- films like 1984, Another Time, Another Place, and White Mischief -- one might think that he's a man displaced; a man without a country. In fact, the reverse is true. Born in India and raised in England, Radford makes films in Italy about Chilean poets and in Kenya about British murderers. Although he sees himself "as a European," it's safer to say he's a cinematic citizen of the world. What makes Radford a Cinequest highlighted filmmaker, though, is his steady rise in the ranks of world-class directors.
His current achievement is the Italian film Il Postino (The Postman, 1995), which is quickly becoming the largest grossing foreign-language film ever released in the United States. With ease and grace, Radford relates the story of a postman's search for life and love, helped by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Adept at portraying the humor in life, as well as the tears, Radford strives to "make audiences laugh and cry without their feeling, if I may be so bold, that they are being manipulated. The laughter [in Il Postino] comes not from gags but from the human condition, and the tears from playing out a Greek tragedy." And like any good Greek tragedy, love plays a central, and often harsh, role. Radford's earlier work is quite different. Documenting musician Van Morrison's 1979 concert tour of Dublin and Belfast, Van Morrison In Ireland (1981) is a lively account of those performances.
Moving from documentary to fiction, Radford worked with Sean Connery in Another Time, Another Place (1983), in which an Italian prisoner of war works on a Scottish farm, falling in love with the farmer's wife. Perhaps his most critically successful film until Il Postino is Radford's version of the classic 1984 (1984). Film critic Roger Ebert has high praise for this one, calling it a "brilliant film of Orwell's vision." The story should be familiar to you: a bleak, totalitarian world where passion is a crime and contraband jam, coffee, and chocolate are valued more than love. Again, Radford works the love theme, since protagonist Winston Smith's ultimate downfall begins with the passing of a note that simply says, "I love you." Radford's direction of John Hurt and Richard Burton (in his last role) is outstanding. Following 1984 was Radford's lesser-known critical success, White Mischief (1987). Set in Happy Valley, Kenya, in the 1940s, White Mischief recounts one of the British Empire's most scandalous--and unsolved--murders. Once again, Radford found himself outside of England, yet still dealing with the human condition that drives us to extremes.
It's clear that Michael Radford's directorial skills are on the rise. Now's your chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor. -- Jeffrey Vargas