Final Mill Valley Film Festival report: When Night Is Falling

ATN's Jennie Yabroff brushes away a tear and fondly recalls her final

screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Here is her report: The 'gay

'90s', as some are wont to call them, have seen an influx of gay filmmaking,

from the major budget award winning Philadelphia , featuring nary a

kiss, to the sexually frank independent film The Living End . In

between we've had Jeffrey , a light and fluffy take on gay love in the

age of AIDS, as well as the prevalence of homo-eroticism in otherwise

"straight" films ( My Own Private Idaho ). On the female side of

things, lesbian films have been fewer, but well-received, with Go Fish

and The True Adventures of Two Girls In Love getting lots of

mainstream attention. However there are still many gaps to be filled in the

canon, especially in terms of lesbian films. When Night Is Falling ,

by Patricia Rozema, does a damn good job of filling most of the holes.

When Night Is Falling is an exceptional film, and for many reasons.

Firstly, it is a gorgeously sensuous picture, each image evocative and deeply

satisfying. Be it a nightscape of stars that turns out to be the door to a

trailer, or a woman turning silent cartwheels against a landscape of snowy

oil derricks, every scene is breath-taking. Secondly, it is a film that

everyone can appreciate, regardless of sexual orientation. It is not a

"lesbian" film, nor is it a straight film with decorative lesbians to

titillate audiences (like Basic Instinct .) It is a film about

self-discovery, about fear and risk and the magical power of re-invention, as

well as the mutability of identity.

Camille is a beautiful professor at a Protestant college. The film opens with

her dreaming of women's bodies underwater. Awoken by her dog Bob, Camille

apparently forgets her dream and goes about her day teaching and making plans

with her fiancee Martin, a fellow teacher at the college. Camille's calm is

shattered when later in the day she discovers Bob dead. This leads her to

Petra, an equally beautiful woman who performs in a circus. Petra is up front

about her attraction to Camille, and Camille soon is fighting her own

attraction to Petra, as well as coming to terms with her religion's views on

homosexuality. The characters are all beautifully drawn, with no heroes and

no villains. Although Martin is enraged when he learns of Camille's

dalliances with Petra, Rozema makes him a real, sympathetic character,

ultimately as worthy of salvation through self-discovery as Camille.

When Night Is Falling speaks in silences, and the metaphors presented

by the circus performers, especially the trapeze artists, are wordless and

profound. The film works best as a metaphor itself, a metaphor for an

individual entering a hidden, shadowy world, and engaging with a dark,

mysterious stranger in an attempt to truly look inside herself. The actual

relationship between Petra and Camille is not nearly as important as the

symbolic journey it represents. In falling in love with Petra, Camille is

forced to question her values, her religion, her society, her relationships

and even her own view of reality. Rozema's camera follows her on this

journey, creating a document that is hauntingly graceful, filled with the

pain of loss and the joy of renewal.

Both beautiful and truthful, the film has all the lushness of an epic

picture, and the quiet focus of a small feature. But When Night Is

Falling is by no means a "little" movie. It's scope is as vast as the

Canadian landscape that is backdrop to much of the film, and the ending had

the audience cheering with an unexpected and rewarding twist. When Night

Is Falling is that rare breed of film that pleases everyone without

compromising its intelligence. Bravo to Rozema for a true masterpiece.