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The revelation of dark secrets in narratives is often anticlimactic, but not in this exquisite expressionist drama about a haunted woman who's escaped slavery to live in dreamy yet nightmarish isolation with her daughter in Ohio. In a small but labyrinthine house racked by violent supernatural activity, Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) and Denver (Kimberly Elise) receive unexpected visitors whose motives are powerful and obscure. One is Paul D (Danny Glover), a long-lost family friend who tells Sethe things about the past she didn't know. The other is a stranger (Thandie Newton) who competes with Denver for Sethe's attention before the four learn too much about one another to continue living like a family. Using overwhelmingly potent performances, audacious static close-ups, assertive lighting, and a rigorous yet lyrical interweaving of events set in three different time frames, this terrifyingly beautiful movie blends metaphor and stark social commentary to achieve a spontaneous grace. Akosua Busia, Richard LaGravenese, and Adam Brooks adapted the novel by Toni Morrison, and Jonathan Demme directed. With Beah Richards, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and Albert Hall. Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Ford City, Hyde Park, Lake, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, McClurg Court, Norridge, Old Orchard, 62nd & Western, Webster Place.

--Lisa Alspector

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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