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The Witnesses

French drama looks at impact of AIDS on a group of friends and lovers

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In the early 1980s, a young gay man named Manu (Johan Libéreau) joins the tight-knit trio of Parisians -- an older doctor (Michel Blanc) and a married couple (Sami Bouajila and Emmanuelle Beart) -- and good times and benign bed-hopping ensue. But the uninvited guest in Andre Techine's drama is a mysterious, new deadly virus; after Manu acquires the "gay plague," the gang's already tenuous relationships take a rough hit. The film's AIDS-specificity feels personal, if somewhat dated, but in many ways, this is another playing out of navel-gazing individuals undone by unexpected death, with an added splash of disease-of-the-week. (Blanc's doctor jumps instantly into AIDS research, which generates talky medical-info scenes.) The ensemble cast is meant to offer varied individual responses, as well as to illuminate how AIDS, in essence a social disease, could ripple across friends and families, even those left uninfected. But the film's studied effect of pinpointing history and enshrouding it a retroactive nobility mutes what should have been raw emotions: fear, anger, guilt, anguish. Techine gets points for ultimately being life- (and sex-) positive, and Blanc and Bouajila give fine performances as Mamu's alternating lovers. In French, with subtitles. Mon., June 16, through Thu., June 19. Harris (AH) [capsule review]

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