In ancient cultures, a solar eclipse was often seen as a cosmic event with terrifying and mysterious consequences. In contemporary society, the same could be said of sex. As the shadow of AIDS passes over the planet, what has been poetically called le petit mort—the extinguishing act of orgasm—does not seem so small any more. Eclipse, an adventurous feature debut by Toronto director Jeremy Podeswa, looks at the overlapping of heavenly bodies and of bodily fluids through the same dark lens. The movie unfolds as a series of empty erotic encounters that take place during the days leading up to a full solar eclipse. AIDS plays no visible role in any of them. But its presence is implied—in the bleak tone of the drama, and in the fact that its characters find it so hard to be casual about casual sex.
Eclipse has won acclaim on the festival circuit—from the Berlin International Film Festival in February to last month’s New Directors Festival at the Museum of Modem Art in New York City. An arthouse film that aims to provoke, it is stylishly crafted, but intensely self-conscious and austere. Podeswa, who shares producer Camelia Frieberg with Atom Egoyan (Exotica), makes Egoyan seem almost sunny by comparison.
His movie unfolds as a daisy-chain narrative of alienated trysts involving 10 lovers, gay and straight. An Asian hustler (Von Flores) services a repressed businessman (John Gilbert), who has grimly unaffectionate sex with his Québécois housekeeper (Pascale Montpetit), who seduces a stranger before learning his name, a Latin American refugee (Manuel Aranguiz), who arranges a tryst with the Venezuelan wife (Maria Del Mar) of his lawyer (Greg Ellwand), a bisexual wannabe who sneaks off to a hotel room with an androgynous teenager (Matthew Ferguson), who gives his body to a jaded artist (Earl Pastko), who has a cruel fling with his best
friend and old flame (Daniel Maclvor), who is practically raped by an obnoxious bar girl (Kirsten Johnson) in the men’s room of a gay disco.
Whew! But despite the variety and frequency of the sex acts, a certain torpor sets in. The pacing is slow. And the director’s agenda is all too obvious: in almost every liaison, emotion is fettered by an enslaving stereotype of class, race or gender. But certain episodes stand out. As the caustic
housekeeper, Montpetit rides a knife-edge of aggression and vulnerability. Ferguson’s nervy performance as a blithely uninhibited teen is priceless. Podeswa’s textured footage, meanwhile, is rife with esthetic intrigue as he intercuts the drama, in tinted black and white, with documentary-like color scenes of a city consumed by “eclipse fever.” He tops it all off with remarkable footage of a solar eclipse that he filmed in Baja California, Mexico, in 1991.
In the end, the alienated couplings of Eclipse induce more fatigue than awe. But some of its images bum a lasting impression into the mind’s eye.
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