Anne Heche, Harrison Ford
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Anne Heche, Harrison Ford, ...

As Heaven Knows

A man. a woman. a desert island. The iconography is absurdly simple and infinitely resonant. It’s because the castaway-couple genre traffics in matters both profound (how will they rebuild civilization in miniature?) and cheesy (when they gonna get it on?) that it’s an enduring cliché, most recently trotted out for our philosophical delectation in the Harrison Ford­Anne Heche vehicle “Six Days, Seven Nights.” This new-to-tape Ivan Reitman romantic comedy doesn’t add anything new to the concept, but then, we don’t come to these islands expecting fresh water. A gradual shedding of clothes and inhibitions is enough; that, and actors skilled enough to keep us interested in the slow, sandy, familiar pas de deux. Here are a couple of the best island romances that preceded “Six Days”:

As “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” (1957, Fox, unrated, $19.98) knows, there needs to be something to keep the castaways apart — for a while, anyway — if we’re going to stay interested. And director John Huston comes up with a doozy: The woman’s a nun. This being a late-’50s film, you know that Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr) isn’t going to fall out of the habit, but it doesn’t matter: The relationship between the gentle, resilient nun and the uneducated, well-intentioned Marine (Robert Mitchum) who hides her from the Japanese on a South Pacific island builds up surprising heat, mainly from the actors’ tender intimacy.

Hiroshi Teshigahara’s sensuously surreal drama “Woman in the Dunes” (1964, Milestone/New Yorker, unrated, subtitled, $89.95), just reissued in a new transfer, may be the purest example of the man/woman/ island thing yet — even if it does take place at the bottom of an immense sand pit on the coast of Japan. It’s there that a vacationing office worker (Eiji Okada) spends the night, only to discover that he’s been trapped by the locals to help a woman (Ky¯oko Kishida) dig her shack out of the sand day after day. Filmed in phosphorescent black and white, “Woman” stands the genre on its head by quickly striking sexual sparks. Only gradually do they come to depend on each other emotionally.

By contrast, “Six Days, Seven Nights” is just a forced attempt at old-school Hollywood romantic comedy given unexpected grace by its stars. Forget David Schwimmer as magazine editor Heche’s neurasthenic beau. Ignore the leering dialogue (Heche, on boarding bush pilot Ford’s beat-up plane: “I’m not sure I trust your equipment”). Overlook, I beg you, the pirates. The pleasure here is in watching Heche’s skittery New Yorkiness slow to a lope in Ford’s presence, in feeling Ford speed up a bit to meet her halfway, in the quick-pulsed glow that, by film’s end, surrounds them despite every stumble of the script. After all, the real desert island in castaway-couple films is made of desire. In “Six Days,” Heche and Ford are talented enough to discover it on their own.

“Heaven”: B; “Woman”: A-; “Six”: B-

As Heaven Knows
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