When Night is Falling Directed by Patricia Rozema
It has a lot going for it: compelling performances, seductive images, luxurious sex scenes, and a subject that has barely been grazed by the movies. Canada's Patricia Rozema has made a rhapsodic lesbian romance. As is often the case with romance, however, there is a catch. The story line of When Night is Falling , precariously strung between the church and the circus, requires a high-wire suspension of disbelief.
Quebec's Pascale Bussières stars as Camille, an English professor engaged to a theologian named Martin (Henry Czerny). Her world turns upside down when she meets Petra (Rachael Crawford), a circus performer who methodically seduces her. As Camille succumbs, she struggles with her loyalty to both Martin and the church. And, exacerbating her moral dilemma, a puritanical college administrator (David Fox) is scrutinizing her conduct.
Each turn in the narrative - the death of a dog, switched bags in a Laundromat - seems transparently contrived to unite the lovers, as in a romance novel. But while cliché frays credibility, the actors are charismatic enough that it seems almost forgivable. Bussières, whom the camera adores, gives a wonderfully translucent performance, her emotions flickering between ambivalence and startled passion. Crawford has a less enviable role, having to pull off such lines as, "I'd love to see you in the moonlight with your head thrown back and your body on fire." But she undercuts the script's hyperbole with disarming poise.
As the spurned theologian, Czerny has a thankless job. And his image as the villainous cleric in The Boys of St. Vincent carries an unfortunate resonance. Still, he salvages some sympathy and performs gamely in a graphic love scene. Meanwhile, the inimitable Don McKellar adds a priceless touch as a beleaguered circus manager whose lover (Tracy Wright) wants to run away to the suburbs. The circus is a funky, low-rent Cirque du Soleil, heavy on the velvet leotards.
Visually, the film is beautifully composed. Whether cutting from a trapeze act to a sex act, or from transmission towers to a birch forest, Rozema has a great eye. Despite the false notes - and a trite ending - When Night is Falling possesses a dreamy charm.
Maclean's May 8, 1995