FILMS

Remains of the night

Brian D. Johnson April 4 1994
FILMS

Remains of the night

Brian D. Johnson April 4 1994

Remains of the night

FILMS

BRIAND. JOHNSON

The movie is set in an urban wasteland where intimacy of any kind is a threat. Sex is a blood sport; love is suspect. The city is a night world of concrete and cold space where hookers hang out on freeway ramps. In a highrise, a dominatrix with a black mask and a whip puts a client through his paces. In a secluded corner of a nightclub, two men share unprotected sex after one of them says that sex not worth dying for is not worth having. And out in the street, a serial killer plucks young women out of the shadows, keeping their earrings as souvenirs. That is just the background for Love and Human Remains, a new movie by Quebec director Denys Arcand. In the foreground is a black comedy about a gay man and a straight woman who share an apartment—and who are both looking for Mr. Right to rescue them.

Arcand’s seventh feature fdm, Love and Human Remains marks a departure in more ways than one. Not only is it his first English-language movie, it is also the first feature that he has directed from a script he did not write. Edmonton dramatist Brad Fraser adapted the film from his own 1989 hit play, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. With its punk humor and homosexual bravado, Fraser’s material is far removed from the convivial satire and mid-life drama of Arcand’s previous two films, Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Jesus of Montreal (1989).

In Love and Human Remains, the 52-year-old director portrays a generation half his age. And for Arcand, who brings a cerebral wit and intellectual rigor to everything he does, Fraser’s script offered a challenge. “It’s not very methodically written, and it’s not in control,” the director told Maclean’s.

“It’s this guy’s first achieved play, and everything has come out of him at the same time. The writing is messy, but what the hell. I wanted to respect that. There’s something very dark, very strange, very modem in this play that speaks to people.”

Arcand saw it in 1991 on its opening night in Montreal. “It was the first thing I’d seen out of English Canada that was speaking to me,” he said. “The play has an in-your-face attitude to it. Instead of making gayness a problem, or AIDS a problem, it’s just there. There’s an attitude of flaunting what you are. And even though I’m not gay, this attracted me.” In the year that Hollywood has finally nudged the closet door ajar with Philadelphia, Arcand’s movie offers a portrayal of homosexuality that is much less sanitized, one that is not afraid to show men giving each other serious long kisses on the mouth.

Fraser’s dark comedy is centred on a glib friendship between David (Thomas Gibson), a cynical actor turned waiter, and Candy (Ruth Marshall), a book reviewer who shares an apartment with him. David, who is gay, has given up on acting, and on love. Candy is a stubborn roman-

‘There’! attitudi flaunting you aí

tic, but she has trouble finding much to like about the men she meets or the books she reviews. Together, David and Candy enjoy an abrasive affection—they are ex-lovers.

Various alienated characters drift in and out of their lives. David’s best friend is Bemie (Cameron Bancroft), a misogynist civil servant who treats women as disposable playthings. ‘Where did everybody go?” David asks him. “Everybody we used to know. It’s funny how people just disappear. David also has an enigmatic relationship with Benita (Mia Kirshner), a psychic dominatrix. And he is being pursued by a 17-year-old named Kane (Matthew Ferguson), a busboy on a confused quest for sexual initiation. Candy, meanwhile, frets about getting involved with a lesbian named Jerri Qoanne Vannicola), who comes on

to her at the gym, and she wonders how far she can trust Robert (Rick Roberts), her latest draft choice in the search for a designated boyfriend.

In other words, there is a lot going on. Arcand cuts from one scenario to another with clinical precision, creating a fugue-like rhythm similar to the one in Decline of the American Empire. He punctuates it with kaleidoscopic images of a television flicking through channels, and with so many calls to an answering machine that it becomes a character in its own right. Meanwhile, shots of an irredeemably grim urban landscape are dropped in like ominous bass notes.

Arcand had originally hoped to shoot Remains in Edmonton. But when that proved impossible, the director reluctantly settled for his home ground of Montreal. “I had to find a way of looking at Montreal as just another North American city,” he says. In fact, he has rendered it unrecognizably alien, a barren downtown without a breath of French culture. The movie’s opening shot shows a grey tangle of freeways, the same site that provided the closing shot for Arcand’s Rejeanne Padovani (1973)—of a body being entombed in fresh-poured concrete. “These are frightening places,” says Arcand. “Over the past 20 years, they poured concrete everywhere. In places, the city can look like a concrete smorgasbord.”

Within Arcand’s austere design, Fraser’s script retains the disjointed quality of the play. The only characters who seem fully developed are David '|§! and Candy. Gibson, a classically trained Broadway actor, undercuts David’s insolent charm with an unnerving hint of menace. Marshall, a Toronto-born stage actress who makes her feature debut in Remains, plays Candy’s emotions close to the surface in a wonderfully natural, unfussy performance.

i But most of the other characters seem trapped in skintight roles—the dark-angel prostitute, the lovesick lesI bian, the naive teenager. And the pacI ing of some scenes is stilted, as the diz alogue skips, sitcom-like, from one bit 5 of clever repartee to another. In the fi5 nal scenes, domestic comedy and ur15 ban drama are joined in a weak slipknot. The film’s upbeat resolution seems forced. But the marriage between Fraser’s impudent wit and Arcand’s controlling intellect is intriguing, even when it doesn’t quite work. Arcand himself allows that it may not be a marriage made in heaven. “Maybe it would have been better,” he says, “if it had been done by a first-time film-maker, someone who would have made a film as raw and as messy as the subject itself. Whether I’m helping the material, I don’t know. You never know until five or 10 years later when you can step back and analyse it.” Modest, philosophical and unsentimental, Arcand knows enough to let posterity have the last word. □