Saturday, August 12, 2006


3 NEEDLES (2005, Canada, Thom Fitzgerald)
We're not here to love them, we're here to save their souls from purgatory.

The best looking Canadian film I've seen, gorgeous cinematography of hilly, picturesque African seacoast and even hillier and more picturesque Chinese agricultural land. Strikingly handsome when it keeps quiet, but as soon as it opens its mouth...

Three AIDS stories about corruption, compromise and grotesque ideas of martyrdom are linked only thematically, not interwoven so much as scrambled. Each of the stories is complicated to the point of muddle-headedness, working so hard to pile tragedy on conundrum that human behaviour and simple story mechanics become baffling – a particular problem when the juggler can never seem to keep all three of these gaudy and unwieldly balls in the air at once, there's always at least one lying neglected on the floor.

That's frustrating, and pushes us out of the picture, but what's galling (and almost pushes us out of the theatre) is the outsider-peculiar appropriation of Catholicism to provide a toxic stock for this distasteful soup. It would be difficult to find contemporary Catholic mission workers with the apalling theology of the Mother Superior who provides the gallingly improbable voice-over –– or the destructive naivete of her medical mission team who have as hazardously precarious a hold on medical procedures as they do on theology. These twisted stereotypes we just don't need to see perpetuated.

Nor do we need to see the disturbing sexual violence and commodification that runs throughout the film, from the serial rape of a pregnant woman and a this-is-probably-relevant-to-the-story-but-I-can't-for-the-life-of-me-see-how sequence about coming-of-age circumcision which open the picture to an alternately matter-of-fact / campy look at the Montreal porn industry, or any number of other rapes, sexual murders and sex-as-commodity scenes: the film may be earnest, but still falls far short of earning the right to show these horrors, and so it begins to feel tawdry and exploitative in spite of its higher aspirations.

By far the strongest of the three stories is the one set in rural China: the relationship between an ambitious farmer and his savvy not-yet-twelve year old daughter is lively and loving, and there's a parabolic quality about his story that might evoke the folk-tragic resonance of the shorter works of Steinbeck or Pearl S. Buck if it wasn't so compromised by the narrative and spiritual clutter packed around it.

Available at Videomatica

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