when night is falling
Film, 1995, 4 stars
Written and Directed: Patricia Rozema
One of the wonderful things about Patricia Rozema's filmmaking is her exquisite attention to detail. Her films are meticulously crafted, filled with contrast. Her independent films were rich in depth and awash in colour, and her first studio film Mansfield Park created a lush-yet-inherently-creepy atmosphere for playing out the darker side of Jane Austen.
When Night is Falling is a subdued film with an undercurrent of simmering passion, much like Camille (Pascale Bussiéres) herself. It is a vast deal more than your typical "coming out" film - it is an exploration of the power of guilt and habit to rule your life.
It is, quite simply, a beautiful film. It also contains one of my favourite lesbian love scenes ever. Each time I watch the film I catch some different nuance on the symbolism that Rozema has deliberately placed within. The movie celebrates coincidence, destiny (or fate if you will), mysticism, and the value of telling the classic stories in new ways to give them life and validity in modern times.
Rozema celebrates coming out as an awakening of the senses and examines our propensity towards feeling guilty over the enjoyment of the most pleasurable things in life. Rozema parallels the repressing of one's sexuality with the repression of one's humour, one's sense of adventure, one's ability to live life in the moment and to the fullest. Camille has spent her entire life hiding her passions, one can't help wondering once she has uncovered her desire for women if there are other passions bubbling under the surface screaming to get out.
Camille teaches mythology, the most creative, imaginative side of religious teaching. She longs for the romance, change and adventure of the heroes and heroines in the stories she loves so much. In the incredible opening sequence Rozema juxtaposes the traditional Martin (Henry Czerny as Camille's lover) teaching ethics and the foundations of Christianity with Camille's lessons on mythology and the magic of change and transformation.
Listen carefully to the words, they underline the themes for the entire film. Change and adventure versus stability, letting your passions rule your life rather than letting tradition and habit control your destiny. Big themes, all played out mostly with subtlety and humour. (I say mostly, because the whole storyline involving the dead dog felt a bit like someone slapping a wet fish across your face.)
For Petra, Camille's wild and unusual new lover, Camille is a reminder that you can only run from things for so long. Used to the free, hand-to-mouth existence of a modern circus performer, she never expects that she'll meet someone like Camille who makes her question the unsteadiness of her life and forces her to admit that, like everyone else, she really wants someone she can give something to, rather than just taking from.
Thematic discussions aside, the characters are what makes When Night Is Falling worth watching. Even the supporting cast is noteworthy; comedic while not being overpowering, and Martin's angst as he feels Camille slipping away from his ordered and structured life is heart breaking. His "think before you speak" monologue is as good as you'll ever hear.
Each character undergoes a transition, sometimes in wildly opposite directions. For example, while Camille secretly longs for the freedom and diversity of Petra's life, circus-owner Tory longs for white-picket-fence stability far away from the demands and constant change of her hectic life on the road.
Through it all is a touching and innocent love story. Pascale Bussières has a fragility about her that makes you want to reach into the screen and hug her. Her character is both naïve and strong willed, making her stubborness to see the truth both frustrating and endearing. Rachael Crawford as Petra has just the right combination of sassiness and vulnerability, and does she ever look sexy and ethereal in a tight bodysuit with lights dancing around her; sexy enough to pique Camille's long repressed desires.
The film also doesn't shy away from confronting sexuality when required. When Night is Falling gives us a glimpse of one of those moments in time where you have to grab the brass ring and hang on for all you are worth, because that chance to live the life you were meant to, rather than the life that seems pre-ordained for you, might only come along once in your lifetime. Indulge your inner romantic and avoid watching with anyone whose cynicism is likely to ruin it all for you.