written and directed by John Sayles
with Linda Griffiths and Jane Hallaren
runs June 28-30 at Varsity
College-town lesbianism—now there's a shock. Yet what's yawningly common today still packs a wallop for the characters of John Sayles' 1983 coming-out drama. In a '70s-soaked campus community where all the profs wear tweed and sideburns, 33-year-old Lianna (Linda Griffiths) is stuck in an unfulfilling marriage, then finds the respect and attention she craves from a visiting professor (Jane Hallaren). The reciprocal interest isn't just academic: Ruth, the older of the two, quickly seduces the eager newbie while Lianna's husband is out of town. Later, however, Lianna discovers that while having an affair can be wonderful and liberating, admitting it can be ruinous.
Like Kramer vs. Kramer and An Unmarried Woman, Lianna is really about the fallout from the self-before-family upheaval of the '70s, the same era The Ice Storm views with more distance and clinical scrutiny. Although dated, the film's still weirdly suited to earnest, sensitive, educated Seattle filmgoers—Sayles' perfect demographic. (Lianna is the kind of well-meaning liberal mother who corrects her son's mispronunciation of "Thomas Mann.") Everybody has to be fair—Lianna to Ruth, Ruth to Lianna, Lianna to Ruth's other lover, everyone to Lianna's two kids, and so forth.
As a result, Lianna isn't a simple chick-flick empowerment movie; Sayles is too smart for easy endings. Nor is it a perfect date film; Sayles' blue-lit sex scenes are tender but hardly steamy. Rather, it's a flashback to a time when adultery mattered less than the pillow talk that follows.
Why is the 19-year-old movie back in theaters? It's part of Sayles' effort to restore and strike new prints from his back catalog. The Brother from Another Planet (1984) shares a double bill with Lianna; the series continues July 1 through July 4 with Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980), about former '60s student radicals coping with changing times, and the 1987 coal miners' strike drama Matewan.