Bliss

on April 14, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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A film about sexuality and personality that will likely prove better than its audience, "Bliss" tells of the domestic dissolution and redemption of a young husband, architect Joseph ("Sleep With Me's" Craig Sheffer), and his troubled wife Maria ("Mother Night's" Sheryl Lee). "Bliss" opens on the day of their wedding, with both partners shown bringing different takes of uncertainty to the ceremony; six months later, the two are already in therapy, with Maria admitting to their psychiatrist ("Gray's Anatomy's" Spalding Gray) and her shocked husband that she fakes her orgasms. In her desperation for happiness, she clandestinely engages an unconventional sex therapist, Baltazar (Terence Stamp), for counseling. When Joseph discovers her liaisons, he first confronts Baltazar but soon finds himself being schooled in the secrets of eros--and in his wife's inner turmoils, as her long-hidden childhood trauma surfaces.
Nothing in writer/director Lance Young's bio--USC golf scholarship student, Gulf + Western financial analyst, production executive at Paramount ("Black Rain") and Warner ("Dennis the Menace") would lead audiences to expect the depth of psychology and emotion on display in "Bliss." Despite a hefty amount of nudity and intercourse (thus the tentative rating), there is nothing exploitive in the film; if it's anything, "Bliss" is earnest to a fault. Contemporary moviegoers accustomed to seeing sex scenes inserted primarily for their glamor are likely to be snickeringly uncomfortable with the honest item; even if they sink into the film's intimate spell, references to chakras and other Tantric lingo--despite, or perhaps even because of, the film's almost scholarly nature--could set them giggling again.
But "Bliss" is hardly a chapter out of the Kama Sutra; if "Bliss" has a lesson to preach, it's to be found in its humanity. As the loving husband, Sheffer is marvelous in capturing his character's devotion for Maria; Joseph's unyielding sincerity is the film's keel. As Maria, Lee is shaky in the early, easy going but, as the film progresses and her character's private demon begins to surface, Lee is splendid at capturing her character's shattering and salvation. As Baltazar, a minefield of a character for an actor, Stamp never teeters; his august solemnity is the film's anchor. Whether "Bliss" will find a safe harbor stateside is another question. Starring Craig Sheffer, Sheryl Lee and Terence Stamp. Directed and written by Lance Young. Produced by Allyn Stewart. A Triumph release. Drama. Originally rated NC-17 for sex; recut version rated R for graphic sex scenes with strong sex-related dialogue, and for language. Original running time: 102 min
Tags: Starring Craig Sheffer, Sheryl Lee, Terence Stamp, Directed, written by Lance Young, Produced by Allyn Stewart, Triumph, Drama
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