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Lesbians in the Great White North

'When Night Is Falling' is a Canadian love affair with Leonard Cohen but sans the obligatory suicide

By Richard von Busack

The new film When Night Is Falling represents the rehabilitation of the dreaded "Canadian lesbian movie," which used to be shot in grainy, 16mm black-and-white and always ended with a snowfall, a suicide and a Leonard Cohen tune. The snow is still on screen, and the Leonard Cohen song is still on the soundtrack--some things never change--but the fine veneer spread over When Night Is Falling (from the handsome titles to the big production values) makes up for the indifferent acting, dialogue and the unlikely plot. In fact, I'm sure I've never seen a movie about a woman falling in love with a woman that looked so lush and rich.

Camille (Pascale Bussieres) is a theologian at a very chilly-looking Calvinist college, on the fast track to a dual chancellorship of the place with her intended husband, Martin (Henry Czerny). Her plans are interrupted, however, when she meets a young woman at the laundromat. Petra (Rachael Crawford) is a dancer at the Sirkus of Sorts, a low-budget version of Cirque de Soleil. Petra pursues: "I'd love to see you in the moonlight with your head thrown back and your body on fire." Camille responds with a prim "That was uncalled-for." Soon, the two are lovers, and Camille has to choose between her life with Martin, whose tie never really seems to come off, and the sleek, beautiful Petra. It's easier to forgive a story line that exists mostly to promote sexual tension than it is to forgive the neglect of the third side of a relationship triangle. The starchy Martin seems no danger to Petra's hopes of landing the comely Calvinist, and the film loses some necessary tension as a result.

Patricia Rozema, who directed I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, adds lovely metaphorical flourishes to When Night Is Falling, with flight as a symbol of Camille freeing herself (the symbolism is most elegant in a sequence of aerialists miming the lovers during their first tryst). What's repressed in I've Heard the Mermaids Singing bursts forth in When Night Is Falling, for better or for worse. At worst, When Night Is Falling is twittery erotica, at its best, it's compelling romanticism.


When Night Is Falling (Unrated; 94 min.), directed and written by Patricia Rozema, photographed by Douglas Koch and starring Pascale Bussieres and Rachael Crawford.

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From the Nov. 22-Nov. 29, 1995 issue of Metro

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