Movie Review By Andrea Chase
Some films are dreck, some films are popcorn, some films are art, and some films are pure poetry. "Lilies" falls into the poetry category. It's a mystery set simultaneously in the golden past and the gray walls of a maximum-security prison. It takes poetry and filmmaker John Greyson to make that work.
The story of madness, jealousy, passion, religion, and the tyranny of truth plays out both in a prison chapel and the memories of two old men: Simon, convicted forty years earlier of killing his lover, and his boyhood friend, now a bishop, who has come to hear his confession. Once in the chapel, Simon explains that he is not here for absolution, he's here for revenge, which starts by forcing the Bishop to watch a re-enactment of the parts they both played in the murder of Simon's lover, an exquisitely beautiful young man, Vallier.
The actors of the piece attack their roles with a raw passion as primal as lust. Aubert Pallascio, as the older Simon, has angry eyes that have distilled forty years of hatred into a cold venomous stare. At the other end of the spectrum is Brent Carver, the achingely gentle, mad mother of the Simon's doomed lover.
The artificial construct, of having the action take place in the present and in the past, of having prisoners in the present playing roles in both times, of men playing women, is at first distracting. But that, as well as the conceit of showing the old men in the prison chapel occasionally joining the action in the past is executed with such delicacy, such finesse, that it amplifies the dreamlike quality of the story. It never devolves into gimmickry. The past and present reflect and illuminate each other.
The all-male cast allows the film to focus on the tragedy of love. The genders involved become secondary. But in the meta-story, the semiotics as it were, gender is itself the focus. A man dressed as a woman sneering at a gay affair, well, there's paradox for you. And it makes "Lilies" a sublimely unique and wonderful film.
© 1997 • Andrea Chase • Air Date: 10/8/97
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