harrison's flowers directed and produced by Elie Chouraqui, written by Chouraqui, Didier Le Pêcheur and Isabel Ellsen, with Andie MacDowell, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, Elias Koteas and David Strathairn. 127 minutes. A TVA International release. Opens Friday (March 15). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 84. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
the first thing we should note about Harrison's Flowers is that despite its setting during Yugoslavia's civil war and its realistic backdrop, the story itself is fiction. That's true even though many of the characters and details come from screenwriter Isabel Ellsen, herself a photojournalist.When Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn), Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, is sent off to Yugoslavia to take pictures of an insignificant civil conflict for Newsweek, he disappears. His wife, Sarah (Andie MacDowell), refuses to believe he's dead, drops her kids at her mom's and heads out to find him.
She treks through the horrors of war, driven by conviction and love and helped by a couple of her husband's friends, who don't actually believe Harrison is alive but refuse to leave her to be raped and murdered by the Serb militia.
Despite such oddities as a voice-over narration that suddenly sprouts up in the last half-hour, Harrison's Flowers has undeniable power. French director Elie Chouraqui lights an emotional fire under the usually somnolent MacDowell and surrounds her with a striking group of supporting players headed by Adrien Brody and Brendan Gleeson.
Harrison's Flowers is stronger on wrenching horror than rational explanation, though I suspect that a rational explanation of the Yugoslav wars is beyond the scope of any fiction movie.
It's a worthy entry in that war-movie subgenre, the combat photographer film, in which the entries are few but generally choice (Salvador, Under Fire) and in which the moral stakes are complicated by the protagonist's status as a not-so-innocent bystander.
ALSO OPENING: ICE AGE -- ORFEU -- RESIDENT EVIL -- THE RHINO BROTHERS -- SHOWTIME --For details, see reviews, page 84.