Sunday, January 24, 2010

I've Heard the Mermaids Singing

(Patricia Rozema, 1987)
This quiet, kind, self-consciously idiosyncratic movie explores the gap between ideology and achievement in the art world, as personified by a trio of intersecting creative types - Shelia McCarthy's awkward, neuter photo-hobbyist, plus a couple of angsty dykes. It's really McCarthy's show, and having navigated the somewhat pushy, mannered cuteness of the early scenes, she invests her character with a depth of feeling that carries the movie. While Paule Baillaregon is far from unsympathetic as the silver-spoon gallery manager, there's real urgency behind Rozema's critique of her ill-informed, regurgitated pretension; her inability to create may be tragic, but it also stunts her comprehension at the root. McCarthy's inarticulate emotional intelligence is valorized over Baillargeon's comically meaningless artybabble, with girlfriend Ann-Marie Macdonald subtly implying a resolution of the extremes. These seemingly subculture-specific concerns are presented with one eye firmly on the popular audience, using McCarthy as a sympathetic intermediary and proxy for the 'normal' uninitiated viewer. Personally, I'll take the character-based material over Rozema's more indulgent stylistics any day; the black-and-white fantasy stuff is well integrated, but the magic canvas, imaginary orchestra, and hyper-romantic final image strike me as too clever by half, and the self-reflexive video camera stuff ain't Atom Egoyan even if it does serve a structural purpose. Still, it's funny and felt in more or less the proportions it intends.

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