The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

2004, Movie, PG, 124 mins


Irish director Mary McGuckian's adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-winning novel about faith and fate, the third so far, captures none of the book's melancholy spirit. Peru, 1714: As religious pilgrim Brother Juniper (Gabriel Byrne) watches, the rope bridge over a gorge suddenly collapses, hurling five people to their death. Six years later, Juniper sits before a court of the Inquisition, accused of heresy. Exhibit A: The book he compiled about the five victims, in which he set down every fact, every anecdote, every apparently minor detail regarding their lives, in hopes of parsing God's divine plan from the intersecting paths that led these five and no others to their appointment with death. In so doing, he chronicles the lives of a broad cross-section of local citizens, rich, poor, respectable and notorious. They include impresario Uncle Pio (Harvey Keitel), who discovered the fiery Camila (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), nurtured her talents, renamed her "La Perichola" and now depends on her appeal — and the patronage of the bored, lustful Viceroy (F. Murray Abraham) — to keep his theater afloat. The Viceroy is in thrall to La Perichola, who deceives him with a bullfighter; the Viceroy responds by humiliating her after she forgets her station and mocks the drunken, pathetic Marquesa de Montemayor (Kathy Bates). The Marquesa is the richest woman in Peru, but wealth can't compensate for the painful estrangement that drove her hard-hearted daughter, Clara (Emilie Dequenne), to marry a courtier based in faraway Spain. Clara's absence drives her mother nearly mad with grief, and out of deference to the Marquesa's rank, the manipulative Archbishop of Lima (Robert De Niro) orders the Abbess (Geraldine Chaplin), who needs the church's money to run her charity hospital, to find the lonely woman a companion among her novices. The Abbess chooses pious, gentle Pepita (Adriana Dominguez), who wants only to devote herself to the church. Orphaned twins Manuel and Esteban (Mark Polish, Michael Polish), raised at the convent and employed at various times by both the Archbishop and Uncle Pio, have been intensely devoted to each other since childhood, but Manuel's infatuation with La Perichola drives a wedge between them. Did God select the five characters who converged on the bridge, or did blind fate send them to their deaths? Though handsomely mounted, this parable of intersecting destinies and implacable tragedy is as lifeless as a wax tableau. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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