Films

Desire, deathly and dangerous

One tale features a necrophile, the other, betrayed spouses

Brian D. Johnson April 3 2000
Films

Desire, deathly and dangerous

One tale features a necrophile, the other, betrayed spouses

Brian D. Johnson April 3 2000

Desire, deathly and dangerous

One tale features a necrophile, the other, betrayed spouses

Films

Brian D. Johnson

In Kissed, a first feature by Vancouver’s Lynne Stopkewich, actress Molly Parker scored an unlikely triumph with her Genie-winning portrayal of an embalmer who enjoys making love with dead white males. Now, four years later, another Canadian director has made an acclaimed debut—and another actress has won a Genie—with a bittersweet romance involving necrophilia. But in this case, the theme is more oblique, and the object of desire that gets unzipped from a body bag is a woman.

Post Mortem was a box-office hit last summer in Quebec. And at the Genie Awards in January, its Montreal writer-director, Louis Bélanger, won the Claude Jutra Award for best first feature, while his star, Sylvie Moreau, won the prize for best actress. Both awards are richly deserved—the film is compelling—but Bélanger’s script has some severe shortcomings.

It is a story of two lonely souls brought together by a fluke of fate. Linda (Moreau) is a single mother who spends her nights seducing men only to knock them unconscious and steal their valuables—a hooker with a heart of fool’s gold. Christian (Gabriel Arcand) is a recluse who listens to Delta blues and works in a morgue. It’s hard to explain how these two lost souls come together without giving away the plot. Let’s just say that after one of her seductions backfires, Linda is presumed dead and Christian is presumed guilty of violating her.

Using flashbacks to erect an off-kilter narrative, Bélanger keeps the viewer guessing. Playing a curious mix of aggressor and victim, Moreau brings an erotic intrigue to her mercurial character. And Arcand shows an aching vulnerability as the working stiff who finds

unrequited love at work, among the stiffs. But the script has some odd missteps—Linda sells stolen credit cards to a fence for $1,600, as if her victims wouldn’t have cancelled them. And for a drama that tiptoes on such disturbing terrain, the equal-opportunity redemption at the end seems awfully soft. Perhaps Canadian cinema just needs more time. If our best and brightest young directors keep at it, we may yet live to see the Great Canadian Necrophilia Movie.

Post-Kissed Molly Parker, meanwhile, has found a promising afterlife in ensemble pieces such as Wonderland, Sunshine and The Five Senses. Her latest is Ladies Room, a Canada-Britain coproduction filmed in Montreal, which rallies an impressive cast around an erratic script. The unromantic comedy also features Lorraine Braceo, Greta Scacchi, Veronica Ferres and the newly iconic John Malkovich. The first half takes place at a theatre, where a flood forces the play’s star (Braceo) to share her dressing room with an ambitious young actress (Parker), who is having an affair with the star’s playwright husband. The second half takes place in an opera house, where a very pregnant woman (Scacchi) ends up in the ladies room consoling a distraught woman (Ferres)

who is mired in a disastrous affair with the unborn child’s father (Malkovich).

A first feature directed by Gabriella Christiani (Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscarwinning editor), Ladies Room was written by four women, and the script has the whiff of collective compromise. It’s a goulash of fatly theatrical scenes. And there is some pleasure in watching good actors make a meal of it. In an extended dialogue with Braceo in front of the makeup mirror, Parker has the film’s finest moments—the cruel young actress who spars with the aging diva while laying on cat’s-eye mascara. Also, after watching her in so many plain, unthreatening roles, it’s refreshing to see Parker as a motorcycle-riding vixen in black leather and pink pantyhose.

But the story is a shambling contrivance. And Malkovich is its ludicrous punchline—falling down stairs and prattling in an Italian accent. It’s dangerous to let him loose: he’s the kind of actor who tends to overpower weak material. Parker, on the other hand, makes even the preposterous seem real. In the movie’s coy framing device, her character looks back on her life from a white powder-room purgatory. And like Post Mortem s, Moreau, she breathes life into a near-death experience. EH