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Song of the Loons

Sally Miles

Flower Power: Jason Cadieux (right) and Danny Gilmore in 'Lilies'

A fisherman's paradise blooms with decadence in John Greyson's 'Lilies'

By Richard von Busack

LILIES ARE the flowers of purity. They are also, as the philosopher Michel Foucault notes in Discipline and Punish, the shape of the fleur-de-lis brand burned into criminals as a symbol of the wrath of the French king. And lilies are the flowers presented to the dead. The title of the invigoratingly gaudy Lilies is easy to explain, anyway. But encompassing the whole of this very peculiar film is much more difficult. Certainly, the gayer you are, and the more Catholic you are, the more fascinating Lilies is. John Greyson's film is based on a Quebecois play titled Les Fleurettes, but its theme is derived from Oscar Wilde's Salome and from novelist Jean Genet's unique combination of prison brutality and symbolist romance as thick and sweet as maraschino syrup.

A doomed affair at a small lakeside resort in 1912 between two star-crossed young men--the broke aristocrat Vallier (Danny Gilmore), nicknamed "Lily-White," and the plebeian Simon (Jason Cadieux)--is presented as a play acted out by the inmates of a prison some 40 years later. Eventually, this play opens up into a movie, with locations and costumes. But in that movie, men still act out the women's roles. A bishop (Marcel Sabourin), captured and locked in a confessional, watches, as if from a peep-show booth, the story--his own story, as it turns out. Not all of the loons hovering around this resort have feathers. Vallier's mom (Brent Carver) is apparently Blanche Dubois' northern cousin, convinced that the local lake is the Mediterranean and that the shack she lives in is a chateau. A wealthy, eccentric French woman (played with Jeanne Moreau's own hauteur by Alexander Chapman) arrives by balloon to scoop up Simon as a kept husband.

The elements of anticlericalism, arson, jealousy, suicide and delusions of grandeur are presented amid the moose and mosquitoes. Such decadence in a fisherman's paradise provides something rare in this year's cinema: an absolute novelty. Lilies might sound as rarefied as a sonata for dog whistles, but its artificiality and pretensions are engaging. The uneven performances strike one as a happy accident--another disassociating device, like the framing of the play within the play. And if Lilies can't be taken seriously, Greyson's direction is very unself-conscious, with dry, weird humor and moments of inexplicable, bizarre beauty. In this rich, bitter confection, there's practically no violence and more than a hint of camp; Lilies may not be one of the best movies of the year, but it's certainly one of the most unusual.

Lilies (Unrated; 95 min.), directed by John Greyson, written by Michel Marc Bouchard, photographed by Daniel Jobin and starring Ian D. Clark and Brent Carver.

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From the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro.

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