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'The White Countess' is a looker


Two fiercely lonely people in 1930s China, one a blind former American diplomat, the other a Russian countess forced to flee her homeland, find comfort and unexpected salvation in their tentative, chaste relationship. All the while, China and its people are bracing for the attack from Japan that is sure to come.

The White Countess is the final film from the producer-director team of Ismail Merchant (who died in May at 68) and James Ivory, who carved out a cinematic niche for themselves by crafting films of great taste, refinement and discretion - films that reached their pinnacle with 1985's A Room With a View and 1993's The Remains of the Day. The new film can't match either of those career highlights, but it does showcase both the pros and cons of the team's distinctive approach to late-20th-century filmmaking.

The White Countess (Sony Pictures Classics) Starring Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson. Directed by James Ivory. Rated PG-13. Time 138 minutes.

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