There is much bravery and perhaps no little self-proclamation in UNFINISHED BUSINESS, the Viveca Lindfors film—written, directed by, and starring herself—that opens today (May 29, 1987) at the Public Theater. James Morrison plays her son, Jonathan.

The bravery comes in playing a woman—an actress named Helena—who is no longer young and whose husband has left her. A woman whose beautiful face is now like the beauty of a finely ploughed field; still very beautiful, but in a different way. A face that is photographed as much as possible through a soft mesh; but not always (the true bravery).

A further part of the self-exposure is that the Hungarian-playwright husband, Ferenzy, has left her for a younger woman—and he brings the younger woman, also an actress, with him when he suddenly returns from a long stay of working in Germany.

The movie take place at the "Stockbridge International Theater Festival" which, years earlier, Helena and Ferenzy had founded together. "He changed my life; I was just a kooky film star," Helena remembers.

In actual fact, Viveca Lindfors had been a young Swedish film star with George Tabori, her Hungarian-playwright husband. And for years they ran the Berkshire Drama Festival. Tabori created the long-running BRECHT ON BRECHT— and more specifically the part of The Jewish Wife—for her, in which she glowingly starred at the Theater de Lys. He also adopted her son, Kristoffer. And then he left her in 1972 for—the old clippings say—a younger woman.

A solo Lindfors reenacts a passage from BRECHT in the strong opening scenes of her film—the scenes reguard the German physicist who ditched his Jewish wife when the Nazis came in—again relating a theme of abandonment, but in a different way.

Putting this all together, there is a deft touch that comes halfway through UNFINISHED BUSINESS. Helena is raging at Ferenzy about another of his betrayals of the past—when he’d staged BRECHT ON BRECHT in London with her not in it. Into the midst of this strum und drang there comes the weary voice of Helena’s son, Jonathan (James Morrison). "Knock it off!" he tells his actress mother and playwright stepfather. "I’m so goddamned tired of theatrical moments in my real life."

One wonders whether Kristoffer Tabori, the actor who was lately so stoic and so good in Simon Gray’s THE COMMON PURSUIT, ever really was driven to say this. It would be nice to think so, and it is to the credit of his mother to write it into the first movie she has ever directed.

That she could do the movie at all is thanks to the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute, which seems to have stayed with this borderline-pretentious yet often touching project for several difficult years.

Peter Donat, who stems from another famous acting family, does a workmanlike job as Ferenzy—though he is manifestly about as Hungarian as I am. Gina Hecht makes a bold vignette of Ferenzy’s young German companion, Vickie. Little Hayley Taylor-Block, as Kristina the granddaughter, does her best to steal the whole movie—and very nearly manages it with the deliciously overacted wail, "I’m just a thing to you all, I’m just a thing!" Additional cast includes Anna Devere (Anna), Herriett Guiar (Cynthia), James Ward (Chauffeur), and Chuck Cochran (Manager). Synopsized from a review by Jerry Tallmer for the New York Post and a film review for Variety.

Back to The Lobby
To Lobby To Movies