Love & Human Remains


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Candy is David's friend. They share a flat. She writes book reviews and is afraid of commitment. "I want more than sex," she says. "That's why God invented television," David says. Love? "There's no such thing." Meanwhile, girls are being murdered and having their earrings torn off. This is a film about coming to terms with the knowledge that things don't get better; they get changed.

Based on Brad Fraser's play Unidentified Human Remains And The True Nature Of Love, it is French-Canadian Denys Arcand's first English-speaking picture, closer to the heart and broader in base than the eloquent sex talkie The Decline Of The American Empire and wittier, sharper, less ethereal than the sensitive, allegoric Jesus Of Montreal. Fraser has adapted his work for the screen, naturally and easily, allowing the language to stop the breath with its brilliance.

One of the irritants of growing up is having to discard the idealism of youth and settle for something that pays better. David is an actor who went to Toronto, made a Waltons-in-the-Rockies TV series (third lead), lost his nerve, came back to Montreal and now works in a restaurant. "I find being a waiter more artistically satisfying," he tells his oldest friend Bernie. It's a joke, of course, as practically everything is with him. And yet Bernie has capitulated as well, working for the government in some featureless job, frustrated, angry, conscious of the waste. "You're getting boring," David tells him. "It must be my age," Bernie says.

Candy is concerned. It doesn't help, or make her feel happier. She sees the editor of the magazine, who says her reviews are becoming too negative. "Write about something you love," he suggests. "It makes what you hate more interesting." She is intelligent enough to know that what you do is less important than how you do it. When David surfs TV channels, she accuses him of addictive flippancy. When he leaves her in an emotional state in the middle of the night after her first time being made love to by a female body builder, it's to help a friend. He doesn't tell her he's going to dress up as a sheriff in glistening white attire to excite a fetishist who's paying a psychic prostitute to be humiliated.

Fraser recognises that life is layered, like political morality, the sick and the safe side by side, the murderer and the lover in one day, together, the gay and the straight sitting in their shorts at the breakfast table, like brothers. Words are fireworks that dazzle the populace. Feelings are hooks that draw blood. And then there's sex.

This could have been The Big Chill 2, trapped in a vacuous thirtysomething capsule, where no one admits to having taken the wrong turning. "You ever feel that you failed?" Bernie asks. "I'm a waiter," David says. "I'm a civil servant," Bernie says. "You've failed," David says. It's funny, because if it wasn't, it would be sad. All the characters are looking for love, pretending they're not ("Get out more often," David tells Candy. "Sleep around." "With guys in THIS town?"). It's the same when David and his friend Sal enter a rave club. "Any fags here?" David asks, as the music whaps into them. "Sure," Sal says. "They don't know it yet." Who knows anything?

David is not a loser, neither is he a victim. He has a sense of his own purpose. He doesn't care. He's like a candle, irresistible to night creatures. His friendship with Candy is much stronger than he knows. He lets other people's desire dance around him. He has magic powers. Maybe. He glances at a painting in a rich man's house. "I love realism," he muses. "It's so... life like." He can't be serious. He can't be SEEN to be serious.

Although there is a serial killer loose in the city, you feel he is symbolic of an age grown exhausted by tragedy. What they call "the virus" touches everyone, even if it's an absence of condoms in a bedside drawer. Is love a capital offence? Life and death, violence and gentleness, perversity and innocence. Together on the same raft. Drifting... where?

Arcand has created a work of profound understanding about a generation embracing freedom as godhead, only to discover that everything finds its own level. Many of the actors are new to cinema, which is hard to believe, they're so good. Thomas Gibson has the confidence to lay back into David's psyche and let the rhythm dictate, while Ruth Marshall brings to Candy a skidding intellect and subdued sensuality. Arcand cuts new paths through the jungle. There's nothing dull about him, as there's nothing predictable about Fraser. Also, he has a unique talent for controversy and integrity. He doesn't intend to shock. He tells the truth, which is, in itself, shocking.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2006
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Interwoven stories of sex, love and promiscuity in early Nineties Montreal, with serial killer lurking.
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Themroc **

Director: Denys Arcand

Writer: Brad Fraser, based on the play Unidentified Human Remains And The True Nature Of Love by Brad Fraser

Starring: Thomas Gibson, Ruth Marshall, Cameron Bancroft, Mia Kirshner, Joanne Vannicola, Matthew Ferguson, Rick Roberts, Aidan Devine, Robert Higden, Sylvain Morin, Ben Watt, Karen Young, Serge Houde

Year: 1993

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada


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