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Leap of Faith.

Surprisingly, religion plays a more consistent role in Steve Martin's new comedy, "Leap of Faith" (Paramount). Martin plays Jonas Nightengale, a fake faith healer, whose dancing and strutting on a stage dominated by a large crucifix is a hilarious takeoff on rock-style evangelism.

Some may complain that the target is too obvious, but as Nightengale says to a skeptic, "I give them a good show." "Leap of Faith" is worth seeing just for Martin's performance, which is a model of both energy and control, but by the end it becomes clear the movie is aiming at more than easy fun.

Nightengale's road show, "Miracles and Wonders," is stuck in Rainwater, a poor Kansas town that needs rain so badly it's ready to accept the possibility of help from the most dubious source. The local sheriff (Liam Neeson) wants to run them out of town, but Jane (Debra Winger), the show's manager, is able to persuade him to let them have a permit.

Director Richard Pearce has his camera linger over all the tricks of the trade: from the crutches and wheelchairs the troupe carries with them to the way Jane communicates with Jonas during the performance, feeding him information that troupe members mingling with the audience have managed to pick up.

Since the show is fast and the gospel singing by the Angels of Mercy is irresistible, questions about the farmers' gullibility or why the choir hasn't seemed to notice Jonas' cynicism somehow seem unimportant.

Jonas is challenged by the sheriff and exposed -- he was born in the Bronx and has served time -- but manages to use even this revelation to bring the crowd back to his side. Ultimately, the movie raises complex questions about the grounds of faith but wisely recognizes that the issues are too complex to be resolved within its terms of reference.

The most prestigious recent foreign film, "Tous les Matin du Monde" (October Films), also has a religious context, but its success is primarily due to its elegant aestheticism.

Its story, based on historical characters, is narrated in one long flashback by a successful 17th-century French court musician, Marin Marais (Gerard Depardieu), who is under the spell of an older master, Monsieur de Sainte Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle).

The latter, who withdrew from society after the death of his charming young wife, devotes so much of his day to practicing his music that he virtually ignores his two young daughters. An austere genius with attachments to Jansenist circles, his musical perfectionism has attracted the attention of the court, but he firmly rejects worldly success. His mournfully beautiful music is so powerful that it even causes a visitation from his dead wife.

Into this claustrophobic life comes the young Marais (Depardieu's son, Guillaume), begging to be taken on as a student. Sainte Colombe turns him down, but his older daughter Madeleine (Anne Brochet) pleads for him, and soon initiates an inevitably unhappy love affair.

Brochet lends power and dignity to her role -- the only one permitted women in this world of high art -- which is to suffer grandly, but her tragedy is incidental to the movie's real center, the relationship between Marais and her father.
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Author:Cunneen, Joseph
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Feb 5, 1993
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