William Hurt stars in Loved.

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Saturday, September 6, 1997

Hurt takes on pain of abuse in film Loved

By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun

 In Loved, a festival film about obsessive love and violent abuse, conventional thought is turned topsy turvy. So much so that American filmmaker Erin Dignam's effort has become a lightning rod for controversy.
 Which suits William Hurt's sensibilities perfectly. Hurt, in Toronto with Dignam and co-star Robin Wright Penn, plays a prosecutor who calls on Wright Penn's character to testify about the abuse she endured with a former boyfriend who repeated the pattern with two other women. All three attempted suicide. Yet Wright Penn's character, in a complex emotional response, refuses to be angry with or blame her abuser for his actions, at least not in a simple way.
 "You cannot compare this to any other examination of this issue that I've ever seen," Hurt said yesterday in an intense interview, "because you never have seen characters go past the assumptions that are popularly made about this issue -- and these two do."
 For example, Wright Penn's character takes equal responsibility. "So what they have done is reject the popular, adolescent conclusion about it." "They have rejected the popular morality of it, and they have committed themselves to their responsibility, that it is a two-way street."
 Don't misunderstand, said Hurt. "It is wrong, of course," he said of men abusing women. "Of course it is wrong." The film, despite what some cynics say, does not condone abuse "in no way, shape or form," he and Dignam insist.
 Dignam gives Wright Penn's character courtroom speeches that vividly create new insight into the mind of an abuse victim who has been permanently wounded. Dignam's slow, measured pace and "fresh spirit" in making the film allows audiences to think about the issue anew.
 That makes Loved a challenge. Hurt, angered by mediocrity of any kind and fed up with shallow Hollywood films on important issues, says it is necessary to challenge "the dehydrated, reduced attention span of our generation. You meet it head on by making `slow' films which force people to stop and make them uncomfortable.
 "They're uncomfortable because they're not being told by Sylvester Stallone, with his tongue in his cheek, that everything is going to be okay. That is so cosy and typical and such a destruction of what is precious about life.
 "Which is that life is an ever-unfolding flower and mystery and adventure."
 Loved made its Toronto debut last night and is set for a repeat screening this morning. The filmmakers are hoping that a strong Toronto response will generate a North American distribution deal for the independent film.