The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: John Greyson

REVIEWED: 12-08-97

Canadian director John Greyson has ambition, if not much to say. After making the first and probably only musical about AIDS -- the outrageous and nearly successful Zero Patience (1994) -- he attempts in Lilies to make a film in which all distinctions between art and reality, past and present, and male and female blur into the dizzying infinity of parallel mirrors. The effect is unnerving, frustrating, and ultimately silly as it becomes clear that there's not much of substance between those mirrors to be reflected.

It's 1952, and a Catholic bishop (Marcel Sabourin) arrives at a stark Quebec prison to hear the confession of Simon (Aubert Pallascio), a convicted murderer serving a long term. Sequestered in the confessional, the bishop gets locked in by the convicts and staff and is made a captive audience to a play written by Simon. It takes place 40 years before in the provincial village they grew up together in, telling of how he, the bishop, and an exotic woman named Lydie-Anne (Alexander Chapman) became involved in a strange love triangle that led to the crimes for which Simon was imprisoned.

The stark, Marat/Sade-like production shifts in and out of realistic flashbacks, though all the parts, both men and women, are played by the male convicts in drag. This ambiguity alternately ravishes and annoys, more often the latter as the performances are earnestly campy and the story is purple melodrama. Although Greyson has learned a lot from such filmmakers as Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, and Todd Haynes, his Lilies is more gilding than grit.

--Peter Keough

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