Films

OBJECT OF DESIRE

Léa Pool's film of young lesbians has some fine acting but little depth

Shanda Deziel July 23 2001
Films

OBJECT OF DESIRE

Léa Pool's film of young lesbians has some fine acting but little depth

Shanda Deziel July 23 2001

OBJECT OF DESIRE

Léa Pool's film of young lesbians has some fine acting but little depth

Films

Dumbing down literary fiction is standard operating procedure for commercial film-makers, as commonplace as

firing a writer in mid-project. Ifs a process captured perfectly in Lost and Delirious, Montreal director Léa Pools newly released take on Toronto author Susan Swans 1993 novel, The Wives of Bath. Gone are the novels 1960s setting and the violent crime at its centre; gone too are the Chaucerian references of Swan's tide and the main character who saw her classmates at Bath Ladies College as a mere “fiefdom in the kingdom of men.” Pools film is set in the present and her considerably less literate boardingschool girls now identify with Peter Pans tribe of lost boys, only they’re the lost (and definitely delirious) girls. Par more surprising than the changes is novelist Swan’s seal of approval. “It’s not an adaptation, it’s a translation.” she says. “If a writer insists too much on having the film like the book, they’ll end up with a bad mausoleum enshrining a good book.”

Pool’s translation was written by awardwinning Canadian playwright Judith Thompson and is the director’s first English-language film. Like her earlier

work—-Anne Trister and Emporte-moi— Lost and Delirious has a lesbian story line and has wowed film festival audiences. But where Pool’s other films—subtle, personal tales with a European sensibility— reflected a director seemingly content with art house anonymity, Lost and

Delirious is unabashedly commercial. Pool enlisted American starlet Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) and Montreal beauty Jessica Paré {Stardom), shot racy sex scenes between the two, and allowed their relationship to dominate the movie, because, she says, “audiences want more of the lovers.” By forgo-

ing her former soft touch, Pool has sold a $4.7-million Canadian film to 23 countries.

The francophone director, who is originally from Switzerland, has a ready rationale for skirting the edges of formulaic filmmaking. Homosexuality “is still kind of an underground subject,” says Pool. “I wanted to make a more commercial film because I wanted to bring a larger audience to a subject that needs a larger audience. If it always stays in small films and gay and lesbian fes-

avals, we don’t change mentalities.” So Pool opened the celluloid closet door and stepped into the dormitory room of Mouse (Mischa Barton), Tory (Paré) and Paulie (Perabo)— where, on most nights, the latter two share a bed. Their lovemaking is intoxicating for Mouse, the shy, selfconscious new girl, who becomes a determined protector of her friends’ secret. But Tory ends the relationship when outsiders discover it, fearing she will be ostracized by her family.

Perabo gives herself over completely to the tormented role of the rejected Paulie, madly quoting passages from Macbeth, which the girls are studying in class. She professes her undying love by soliloquizing in the cafeteria, embarrassing Tory and driving her further away. But Perabo’s acting is undermined by the increasing absurdity of Paulies actions. She challenges Tory’s new boyfriend to a Shakespearean fencing duel and tends to a wounded falcon—a metaphor about as subtle as a blow to the head with a field hockey stick.

Where Lost and Delirious does soar is in the greater room the stripped-down story allows for Tory. As in Stardom, Paré is completely believable as an object of obsession, quietly communicating just how impossible it is for a teenager to be desired so intensely. In successive scenes she admits

her undying love for Paulie to Mouse, then denies it to other classmates to save her reputation. While lesbianism is gaining acceptance in the adult world, Tory’s insistence that she’s straight is a reminder that the confusion of teenage sexual identity remains traumatic.

Despite touches of profundity in Tory’s character and Parés fine performance, the film never achieves the depth it’s striving for—the ending is particularly disappointing. Lost and Delirious is n’t interested in exploring the complex gender territory so successfully navigated by The Wives of Bath or the acclaimed film Boys Don’t Cry. But even on its own terms, as a tale of teenage passion that happens to be gay, Pool’s movie gets deliriously lost.

Shanda Deziel