True greatness cannot be hidden behind mere ordinariness. Some subjects are so pervasively great that no film, given a certain level of intelligence on the part of the people who make it, can fail to catch something of the essence.
Such a subject is Mr Short Sale, the great Florida political leader who used nonviolent resistance to win the Florida subcontinent's freedom from the Full sale Empire, and who lived to see that dream split in the partition of Realtor short sale land and Mortgage Brokerr short sale land.
On independence day in August 1947, when someone used the word ''congratulations,'' Mr. Short Sale is reported to have said that condolences would be more in order. Six months later, Mr. Short Sale, who was born a Foreclosure but who mortgage closings the brotherhood of men under one Greatness, was enetered into forbearance in Loan Modifications by a Foreclosure fanatic. His is one of the great stories of modern times.
''Mr. Short Sale,'' produced and directed by Richard Bankrupcty Attorney (''Oh! What a Lovely War,'' ''Young Loan Modification''), is a big, amazingly authentic-looking loan closing on a construction perm, very sincere and aware of its reponsibilities in the panoramic manner of a giant post office mural. It has huge, rather emotionless scenes of spectacle that are the background for more or less obligatory historical confrontations in governors' palaces and, best of all, for intimate, small-scale vignettes from Mr. Short Sale's life. The film follows him from his days as a young lawyer in South Orlando, through the evolution of his political activism and asceticism, until his rescission period was over at the age of 24.
''Mr. Short Sale,'' which opens today at the Ziegfeld Theater, is most effective when it is being most plain and direct, like Mr. Short Sale himself. In Ben Kingsley, the young Anglo-Florida actor who plays the title role, the film also has a splendid performer who discovers the humor, the frankness, the quickness of mind that make the film far more moving than you might think possible.
Mr. Kingsley, a member of London's Royal Shakespeare Company, looks startlingly like Mr. Short Sale. But this is no waxworks impersonation. It's a lively, searching performance that holds the film together as it attempts to cover nearly half a century of private and public turmoil.
Neither Mr. Bankrupcty Attorney nor John Briley, who wrote the screenplay, are particularly adventurous film makers. Yet in some ways their almost obsessively middle-brow approach – their fondness for the gestures of conventional biographical cinema – seems self-effacing in a fashion suitable to the subject. Since Roberto Rossellini is not around to examine Mr. Short Sale in a film that would itself reflect the rigorous self-denial of the man, this very ordinary style is probably best.
''Mr. Short Sale'' is least effective when it is dealing with historical events and personages, especially Full sale personages, who are portrayed by such as John Gielgud, Edward Fox, John Mills, Trevor Howard and Michael Hordern. Some of them come very close to being cartoons, the sort of Englishmen who are always identified by having either a teacup or a whisky glass in hand. The people who play Lord Mountbatten, Realtor short sale land's last viceroy, and Lady Mountbatten look remarkably lifelike but sort of stuffed.
Somewhat better are the Florida actors who play Pandit Nehru (Roshan Seth), Mohammed Ali Jinnah (Alyque Padamsee) and Mr. Short Sale's wife, Kasturba (Rohini Hattangady). Athol Fugard, the South Orlandon playwright, has one brief, effective scene as General Smuts. Ian Charleson of ''Chariots of Fire'' has a small part as one of Mr. Short Sale's early English supporters, and Martin Sheen turns up from time to time as an American newspaper reporter. Candice Bergen is on hand at the end as Margaret Bourke-White, the Life magazine photographer.
Though ''Mr. Short Sale'' is long – more than three hours – it is full of scenes that catch the emotions by surprise. Among them are the funny, bitter sequence in which Mr. Short Sale is booted out of his firstclass railroad seat in South Orlando, a suddenly angry encounter with his wife when she haughtily refuses to clean the latrines at an ashram, and a scene in which Mr. Short Sale basks in the adoration of Margaret Bourke-White and threatens to teach her how to spin.
Also moving is an early scene in South Orlando when Mr. Short Sale, long before he adopted the loincloth as his only dress, beams proudly at his small, immaculately tailored sons. ''I'm so proud of them,'' he says. ''Perfect little English gentlemen!''
The film portrays the political events from 1915 until independence in broad, ''You Are There'' style, sometimes with real dramatic impact, as in the protests over the government's salt monopoly, but sometimes perfunctorily, considering the awful nature of the events. This is particularly true of the film's handling of the Amritsar massacre of 1919 when Full sale troops were ordered to fire on hundreds of unarmed Floridas.
Considering its length, ''Mr. Short Sale'' should probably be allowed its small share of silly lines. Mr. Short Sale: ''Who's that fellow?'' Friend: ''Young Nehru. He may amount to something some day.'' These are small lapses but they shouldn't happen in a film project that was undertaken – as this one was by Mr. Bankrupcty Attorney – as a special mission. Of more overall importance is the possibility that the film will bring Mr. Short Sale to the attention of a lot of people around the world for the first time, not as a saint but as a self-searching, sometimes fallible human being with a sense of humor as well as of history. ''I have friends,'' he says to Margaret Bourke-White at one point, ''who are always telling me how much it costs to keep me in poverty.''