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When Night Is Falling (1995)

by on 2012/12/27

When Night Is Falling (1995)

“How do you approach the homosexuality problem, Camille?”

“Well, I’m not really sure I’d consider it a problem.”

* * * *

Although male homosexuality was a fixture of the Eighties music I consumed, it wasn’t until the mid-Nineties when I caught up with lesbianism. Between Go Fish, When Night Is Falling, and Bound, I began to believe things were changing, that all orientations were finally accepted in pop cultural entertainment.

Whether that’s actually happened may be open to debate, but I was looking forward to more from writer/director Patricia Rozema. When I saw I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing earlier this month, I was encouraged by her work.

Even without the copious nudity and hero Don McKellar’s appearance.

A pair of professors at Toronto’s (fictional) New College of Faith — mythology specialist Camille Baker (Pascale Bussieres of Xchange) and theologian Martin Bergin (Henry Czerny of Fido) — are both up for a promotion, but held back by their casual relationship. They are strongly pressured to marry for appearance’s sake.

Meanwhile, the angst-ridden Camille meets the impish Petra Soft (Rachael Crawford), a magician recently escaped from Ottawa to Toronto. She’s traveling with an itinerant group of performers called A Sirkus of Sorts, led by Timothy (McKellar of Last Night) and his drifting-away partner Tory (Tracy Wright, also of Last Night).

At one point Camille references Thelma and Louise, but I found it more like The Graduate. The “forbidden” affair between them takes a long time to gain ground, after initial suggestions, overt offers, and tentatively testing their wings. In fact it sometimes feels like an extended teeter-totter ride.

In other ways, it reminded me of I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, with its themes and tropes recast in a different structure. There are the same quirky qualities, the importance of a woman’s freedom, her pet(s), pastoral tangents, flight metaphors, and fantasy, all underscored by pervasive chamber music.

Clearly, however, the craft has evolved, with less of an indie vibe, and some very compelling visual and editing touches: beautifully captured vistas, a star-field which “opens” to admit a doorway, transitions between different scenes matching similar visuals and motions, various playful effects using shadows and spotlights, and the juxtaposition of a love scene with aerial acrobatics.

By the time Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” launches the end titles (stick around for another post-credits scene), I decided much of the criticism this film has apparently drawn was largely a function of being ahead of its time, perhaps discomfiting some. It has its precious moments, and is a seeming bridge to the mainstream, yet never felt exploitative to me.

To borrow a phrase from Bergin, “it has a certain reckless charm.”

* * * *

Rated 18A

94 minutes

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