Cinema: Unfocused Wandering

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Made on a microscopic budget by Actress Barbara Loden, who also appears in the title role, Wanda is precisely the kind of independent, deeply personal project that American film making badly needs. Wanda is at moments telling and moving, but unhappily it is unsuccessful overall. It lacks a point of dramatic focus and a forcefulness that would have made it into a memorable character study in cameo.

The fault seems to be primarily one of conception. Wanda, in Miss Loden's characterization, is a little like Fellini's Cabiria. She is used, victimized and deserted by men in a series of bitter, occasionally funny vignettes. But in Fellini's exquisite parable, Cabiria's tragic flaw was her humanity and innocence; Wanda can blame her woes only on what very often seems like stupidity, a trait readily conducive to personal, but not dramatic tragedy.

Miss Loden manages at times to make the heart ache for Wanda's rootlessness and empty-headed plight. As a director, she captures the ambience of small-time roadhouses with compelling accuracy; she manages through some clever location photography (done in and around the Pennsylvania coal-mining country) to convey an almost overwhelming sense of lingering desperation. Her debut as a director, despite its flaws, is both welcome and promising. · Jay Cocks