When Night Is Falling

on November 17, 1997 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   To screen at ShowEast. In her third feature, writer/director Patricia Rozema tries -- but fails -- to recapture the magic of her first film, "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." This fantastical drama is about a repressed Christian academic (Pascale Bussieres) whose orderly life is turned upside down when she falls in love with another woman (Rachel Crawford). That the other woman happens to be an unlikely circus performer is just one of the problems with this derivative film.
   Rozema, whose Calvinist background is quite similar to that of Paul Schrader ("Hardcore," "Light Sleeper"), tries to encompass a wide range of ideas in "When Night Is Falling." (Its title comes from a quote in Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander.") But the semi-autobiographical religious elements in the film aren't developed, and the love story between the two women is old hat. When compared to such incisive lesbian dramas as "Lianna" and "Desert Hearts," Rozema's effort seems flat and banal.
   That doesn't mean that "When Night Is Falling" will fail in the marketplace; response to "Go Fish" and, to a lesser extent, "Bar Girls" show that lesbian subject matter has an audience, and Rozema's movie is nothing if not erotic. She even has a hot heterosexual love scene between the repressed academic and her boyfriend (nicely played by Henry Czerny of "The Boys of St. Vincent"), who is allowed by Rozema to be a fairly complex and nonvillainous character. Rozema also treats interracial aspects of the women's relationship in a matter-of-fact and nonexploitative manner.
   "When Night Is Falling" is also ravishing to look at; cinematographer Douglas Koch, who also shot "Mermaids," bathes the film in lush colors. But the final result all comes down to the tale, and Rozema, who was similarly hamhanded in her second, barely released film, "White Room," doesn't reveal any depth. She's great with actors and has a good eye, but more and more her "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" is looking like a fluke.    Starring Rachel Crawford, Pascale Bussieres and Henry Czerny. Directed and written by Patricia Rozema. Produced by Barbara Tranter. An October Films release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 94 min.
Tags: Rachel Crawford, Pascale Bussieres, Henry Czerny, Patricia Rozema, lesbian, infidelity, sex, sexuality
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