FILMS/BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

Sexual wildlife

Three movies explore the jungle of passion

Brian D. Johnson November 9 1992
FILMS/BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

Sexual wildlife

Three movies explore the jungle of passion

Brian D. Johnson November 9 1992

Sexual wildlife

FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

Three movies explore the jungle of passion

BEING AT HOME WITH CLAUDE Directed by Jean Beaudin

The movie opens in black and white, with jangled images of Montreal at night. It is July, in the heat of the jazz festival. Saxophones, sirens and screams weave in and out of the sound track. The camera veers into an apartment where two men are making urgent love

on the floor. There is a glimpse of a kitchen knife, of a throat being slit. The killer flees into the night, dazed and confused. A few days later, he turns himself in to the police.

Shifting to color, the movie picks up the story in the final hours of a long and relentless interrogation.

Based on the hit play by Quebec author René-Daniel Dubois, Being at Home With Claude is a drama of breathtaking intensity. Jacques Godin delivers a powerful performance as the enraged police inspector who drags the facts of the crime from Yves, a male prostitute who has killed his lover in the heat of passion. As Yves, Roy Dupuis is less effective. With a beefcake physique that is much stronger than his acting, he is a poor substitute for the lean Lothaire Bluteau, who played Yves onstage in Montreal and London.

Montreal director Jean Beaudin, however, directs with confidence and flair. The interrogation, which unfolds as a hot-blooded blitz of words between two men, echoes the sexual violence of the crime itself, which Beaudin pieces together in a series of blackand-white flashbacks. He abandons the device far too early, allowing the cinematic momentum to sag—the movie turns back into a play. But even then, it remains a darkly compelling drama of sexual obsession.

HURT PENGUINS

Directed by Robert Bergman and Myra Fried

It is one of those tangential titles, like Catcher in the Rye—too obscure to merit explanation.

And, to clarify, the publicity for Hurt Penguins says that it is “not a wildlife film, but a wild film about life.” In fact, Hurt Penguins is a modest but thoroughly charming screwball comedy by a largely unknown group of Toronto moviemakers.

The story involves two leaders of a struggling rock band, Harriet (Michele Muzzi) and her live-in boyfriend, Nick (Daniel Kash), who

endanger their relationship to advance their career. Nick, the band’s lead singer, is so frustrated by record-industry rejections that he is ready to take an office job. In desperation, Harriet sees a potential angel in Jeremy (George King), a meek, balding businessman who has an obvious affection for her. While Nick becomes increasingly anxious, Harriet encourages Jeremy’s timid advances—with the intention of letting him down gently once

he has financed the band’s first album.

Predictably, the mock romance gets out of hand. But the story takes a delightfully unexpected twist at the end. And although the plot’s unlikely premise is the stuff of highconcept farce, good acting and natural dialogue anchor it in realism. Making her screen debut, Muzzi, a Toronto-based theatre actress, is a revelation. And the movie’s screenwriter, Myra Fried, who also co-directed it with Robert Bergman, adds a witty edge onscreen as Robin, Harriet’s sardonic friend. Fresh, funny and smarter than it first appears, Hurt Penguins ventilates the hothouse climate of English-Canadian film-making with a cool breeze of comic relief.

THE LOVER

Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud

Every so often, a new movie comes along that is supposed to push back cinema’s sexual frontier. The latest is The Lover, the story of a young girl’s first affair, based on the 1984 autobiographical novel by French author Marguerite Duras. The British tabloids have made a fuss over the age of its English star, Jane March, who was supposedly 18 when she filmed the movie’s explicit sex scenes and who looks much younger on-screen. But March’s immaturity as an actress delivering dialogue with her clothes on is more embarrassing than anything she does with her clothes off. In fact, it is only during the lovemaking scenes that The Lover makes sense—as a celebration of skin-deep sensuality.

Set in colonial Vietnam in 1929, the story centres on two unnamed characters: a young French girl (March), who attends a Saigon boarding school, and a wealthy Chinese man (Tony Leung), who gives her a ride in his big, black limousine. She belongs to a poor, strife-tom family with no visible father; he is idle and cultivated, a sensitive voluptuary. They conduct their forbidden affair in his bachelor house in Chinatown, with the light and sounds of the street streaming through the bedroom’s blue shuttered doors.

Shooting on location in Vietnam, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud displays the acute visual sense that he brought to The Bear (1988), his remarkable movie about grizzlies. But behind all the color and texture, the

drama is stilted. Annaud, who cowrote the script with his longtime collaborator, Gérard Brach, films the lovers from an emotional distance, as sexual wildlife. And despite a spine of literary narration delivered by a huskyvoiced Jeanne Moreau, The Lover is a woman’s story without a strong female character—just a pretty girl captured through the lens of male voyeurism.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON