Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: John Greyson

REVIEWED: 12-08-97

As the title suggests, Lilies is a refined creation, delicate to the touch. Its carefully constructed script by Michel Marc Bouchard, based on his play, employs the Catholic rite of confession as the means by which an embittered prisoner exacts his revenge for a murderous trespass committed over 40 years ago. The twist: The penitent, as it turns out, is not the man confessing, but rather the man hearing the confession. Theatrical but never stagy, Lilies is for the most part a play within a play, one in which the inmates of a Quebec prison enact the story of an impassioned love between two youths at a Catholic boys' school in rural Canada in 1912 and the tragic consequences which result. The play's unwilling audience is the incarcerated man's confessor, a visiting bishop who played a key role in the drama that unfolds before him. Of course, the conceit is ludicrous when you think about it -- how is it that this rather sophisticated playacting ever came about, with male prisoners portraying a multitude of roles (including several key female parts) and penitentiary personnel allowing the production to be performed at all? A certain amount of literary license is allowed, however, to Lilies, particularly in view of the near-exquisite way in which it tells its complicated tale. Even given such narrative complexity, director Greyson finds a structural balance between the past and the present, shooting certain scenes of the enacted drama in the settings in which they actually occurred, while others are played against the sparse, bare milieu of the prison. The cast is largely one of unknowns, with the exception of Brent Carver, who starred as the gay hairdresser in the Broadway musical The Kiss of the Spider Woman. Carver plays the pivotal role of the ethereal, somewhat mentally unhinged mother of one of the two youths, who prods the young lovers to fulfill their destiny. (Her demise in the film is the only inexplicable event in Bouchard's story.) Although intellectually stimulating, in both its construction and its themes, Lilies doesn't evoke, however, much of an emotional response in its audience. It's often cerebral when it should be passionate. In the end, while there's a lot to admire about the film, you don't particularly feel moved by it. Granted, it's a forgivable sin for which absolution can be granted, but one that nevertheless keeps a good film from being a great one.

3.0 stars

--Steve Davis

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