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A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Beauty's comment bedevils

PARK CITY, Utah -- You can't take food or drinks into the Eccles Center here at the Sundance Film Festival, so you stand in the lobby, gobbling sandwiches from the little refreshment stand. I had my mouth full of roast beef on French bread with some kind of horseradish cream sauce, when a beautiful woman smiled at me. Yes, beautiful. She was tall, with a mane of raven hair, wide-set intelligent eyes, and a smile that made me curse the evil chefs of Utah for stuffing my mouth with horseradish cream at just such a moment when I would desire to appear most charming and composed.


"You wrote such a nice thing about me once," she said. "You wrote that I was the most beautiful woman in the movies since Daphne Zuniga."

At least, that is what I thought she said. This article will reveal that in fact I have no idea what she actually said, perhaps because the horseradish cream was sloshing too near the delicate mechanisms of my inner ear.

I swallowed with an eagerness which would have alarmed Dr. Heimlich, and told her I was sure that I always wrote the absolute truth. I looked at her and I said to myself, "If this is not in fact Daphne Zuniga herself, then I do not have the slightest idea who she is, and since she has just informed me that she is not Daphne Zuniga, I don't have a clue who I'm talking to." "Are you in this film?" I asked, stalling for time.

"No, I'm just here for fun," she said. "I'm not in any films in the festival this year."

My mind was racing. This was a nightmare. You can't go into print to describe a woman as the most beautiful woman in the movies since Daphne Zuniga and then forget her name. Nor can you smile and say, "I'm terribly sorry, woman so beautiful I singled you out in print, but what was your name again?"

Was the real Daphne Zuniga that tall? I asked myself. I had always sort of pictured her as a little shorter. On the other hand, she first inspired my admiration with her wonderful work in Rob Reiner's "The Sure Thing" (1985), one of the best young love movies I have ever seen, and her co-star was John Cusack, who is a lot taller than people think he is, which may account for her being tall and yet seeming shorter next to the misleading Cusack.

"Is that one of those digital cameras?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "I'm shooting for the paper."

"I was in Roddy McDowall's last film," she said. "He took pictures of everyone in all of his pictures. What an honor, to be in one of Roddy's books, right there with Bette Davis."

"Let me take a photo of you," I said, thinking Kenny Turan of the L.A. Times just went inside. I'll show the photo to him. He knows all the stars.

The beautiful woman was a natural model. I took several shots, and each time she gave me personality, poise, humor. Her eyes twinkled. She was a good sport. She smiled from the inside. Then the festival started ringing the bell that meant it was time to go in to the screening.

Suddenly inspiration struck. "Give me your e-mail address," I said, "and I'll e-mail you a copy of the photo!"

"Great," she said, and wrote it down. I stuffed it into my pocket. She said she hoped I saw some great movies, and then we plunged into the mob and were swept into the theater.

I grabbed a seat, stuffed my sub-zero Eddie Bauer goosedown parka underneath it, and pulled out the piece of paper. It held an e-mail address and a name: Daphne Zuniga.


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