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A woman develops romantic feelings for her (female) child psychology
professor. A love affair ensues, and Lianna's life is
John Sayles' film is an attractive, well-made piece, perceptively analysing character and relationships in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small-town college campus. The location looks like upstate New York (Sayles is a native of Schenectady).
Lianna Massey is in her 30's and she has allowed life to happen to her. As a college student she drifted into a relationship with her teacher, Dick. Now she is married to him and they have two children. We see her doing the dull rounds, picking up the kids and waiting at the back of Dick's class to give him a ride home. Alone after the students leave, Lianna and Dick do not embrace. This is a loveless marriage. When Dick complains about Lianna entering his class, she hits back with, "Afraid you'll let them see you playing husband?" We now have Dick's measure. He is a philanderer who preys on undergraduates for sex.
Dick has exploited Lianna's passivity, shaping the marriage to his own advantage. Even the children are named after his favourite movie stars (Dick lectures in Film Studies). He attends campus parties alone, reasoning that he has to be seen at these functions if he is to get tenure. In fact, he is busy chasing student skirt. When Lianna shows up at one party unannounced and sees him romping in the sand box, her last bond of loyalty towards him is severed.
Ruth Brennan is an impressive woman. In her late 40's and a professor of Child Psychology, she is bright, good-looking and stylish, with plenty of wisdom and poise. She teaches an evening class for campus moms, and this is where Lianna meets her. Drawn to the urbane, understanding Ruth, Lianna makes clumsy attempts to ingratiate herself, offering to work as a research assistant and compiling lists of children's literature. While Dick is out of town attending the Toronto Film Festival, Lianna takes the opportunity to have dinner at Ruth's place.
Ruth is an experienced lesbian, but Lianna is not yet even aware that this is where the friendship is heading. As she prepares for the dinner date, we see Lianna decide, on a whim, to go bra-less. Her feelings are as yet inchoate, but we know that the relationship is about to become sexual.
The two women become lovers, but things do not work out as cosily as the naive Lianna had expected. She burns her boats with Dick, who shows that his hard intellect is coupled with a phenomenal mean streak. Lianna's friend Sandy, uncomprehendingly conventional in her outlook, rejects her. Even more ominously, Ruth proves to be an aloof, calculating lover. Lianna is dismayed to find that she can't move in with Ruth, because it would cause a scandal "here in faculty land". Suddenly Lianna is confronted with the stark reality of her new situation: her children stay with Dick while she has to find herself a job and a place to live. Ruth ends the research assistant arrangement, saying that it is inappropriate for a bed partner to be an employee. She asks Lianna not to call her by her first name in class. Worse still, Lianna learns of "the woman back home", Ruth's long-standing lover, who is still very much on the scene.
As the affair with Ruth fades and withers, Lianna has to feel her way painfully towards a new life for herself. We see her alone in her empty apartment, the plaintive whistle of the kettle representing the dull ache of her unhappiness. She has to cope with a dead-end job and brainless colleagues, having forsaken the easy life of a faculty mom and the sparkling wit of campus society. Her TV set becomes her life, the lame soap opera dialogue echoing her words to Ruth. The girl in the launderette is reading "The Well Of Loneliness". Lianna's meetings with her children are agonising for all concerned. Jerry the campus stud (played by Sayles) calls on the company-starved Lianna. She is delighted to see him until she realises that he is a shark, trying to exploit her vulnerability. When he is rebuffed, Jerry (typically) misses the point and rationalises it in self-referential terms: "My technique must be getting ragged."
Early on in the affair, Ruth had taken Lianna to a gay bar. The 'naughtiness' and the excitement of it had been a liberating experience for the Alberta girl. Now, she heads back to the bar merely to slough off her loneliness. When she ends up in bed with Cindy of the Women's Air Corps, Cindy points out that the two of them have little in common. "We have enough," replies Lianna bleakly.
There are plenty of strikingly clever moments in this impressive film. Sayles' crash-edited blackboard trick is memorable. Later, students try to film a drinks party, and Sayles comments ironically on their attempt by shooting the scene with a handheld camera. The dance show which Lianna stage-manages is a neat dramatisation of her predicament, and the beautiful Otis Redding music entirely apposite. The children are shown brilliantly to be 'in the middle' of the marriage breakdown as they sit on the sofa, eyes darting back and forth between mom and dad, like tennis spectators.
The telephone is used cleverly to symbolise communication breakdown. Dick slams the receiver down, signifying the death of the marriage, and Lianna fails to get any answers as she phones out from her beleaguered apartment.
Sayles' second feature as director, and his first great film. It's not perfect, has its share of clichés and is certainly dated, but it's wonderful. Linda Griffiths stars as Lianna, a young mother of two who is constantly suffering under her smarter, controlling husband, a film professor (Jon DeVries). Lianna doesn't have much of a life, but she manages to sneak in a night class twice a week. She develops what seems to be a non-romantic crush on her professor (Jane Hallaren). When her husband cheats on her, the relationship with her professor changes to a sexual one. It would be easy to hold the fact that Sayles is a man against the movie. However, Sayles does here what he does best: create strong, identifiable characters for whom we care. Lianna is really one of the best developed characters I can remember. I absolutely love the way Sayles makes her intellectually inferior to both her husband and lover. It gives her struggle a lot of weight. And I love the line she says to her husband: "Just because you can argue better doesn't mean you are right." She breaks my heart. The power structure between her and her husband is brilliantly written. I also liked that Sayles creates a new power structure, and not one wholly different from the marriage, between Lianna and her lesbian lover. My only complaint is that Sayles does sometimes treat Hallaren's character too kindly. She's clearly taking advantage of Lianna, and at times she's clearly treating her badly. In fact, the relationship starts exactly the same way as the relationship between Lianna and her husband. She was once his student, as well. The parallel isn't underlined as well as it should have been. I think Linda Griffith's performance here is one of the best ever. It's a tragedy that she didn't become famous after this. I know that Sayles isn't the greatest director (specifically referring to the direction) in the world, but this is some of his best work on that front (his very best is certainly Matewan). Of course his greatest talent is his writing; he is such a remarkable writer of human interrelationships. Sayles also gives his best performance as an actor in this film. Lianna is such a subtle work of human emotion. It really doesn't have any big moments, and it doesn't end with any clear resolution. The film's power only hit me about 20 minutes after it was over. It's a small masterpiece.
Lianna (Rachel Griffiths) is unhappily married to a cheating husband
(John De Vries) and has two children. She falls for a female teacher
(Jane Hallaren) and realizes she's a lesbian. She starts an affair with
her and realizes she can't stay with her husband...she must find her
own identity as a lesbian.
It's hard to believe this was made in 1983. Definitely a ground breaker. I remember it played forever in a small art house cinema in Cambridge MA. I didn't see it back then but I'm glad I got the chance. BTW, it was beautifully restored in 2003 and that's the print I saw. John Sayles wrote and directed the film and, like all his films, it has incredible dialogue and a believable script. This is probably the first realistic film to show a woman coming to grips with her sexual orientation--and embracing it completely. It does show the hardships she goes through adjusting to a life on her own and the relationship problems--but that's very true to life. The trip to a lesbian bar was surprising in a film this old. The acting by the leads is superb--Griffiths is perfect and Hallaren matches her. De Vries is good also but he's stuck with a 1 dimensional villain role. The supporting roles are somewhat amateurish--but they don't lessen the film. In fact it makes it seem even more realistic! The sex scenes are explicit but tasteful.
It's hard to believe a man wrote and directed such a sensitive portrayal of a woman. My only complaint is that it's a bit overlong--but this still should be seen. A groundbreaking and very honest film. An 8 all the way.
John Sayles' ability to get you acquainted with his characters shines
in this study of a wife and mother who is coming to terms with her
sexuality. Unlike the tawdry stories that focus solely on the sexual
of lesbian relationships, Sayles explores and reveals the complexity of
discovering homosexual orientation - what it means to Lianna as her
sexuality emerges from repression and what it means to her and others that
she chooses to live truthfully with it.
There are some very rare vignettes in this film that bely what it is like to discover the attractiveness of women for the first time. Sayles does such a masterful job at portraying this process of discovery - it is joyful, playful, and exciting. These scenes remind me of Truffaut's "The Man Who Loved Women" (also badly remade in the USA, starring Burt Reynolds), but they seem to have a more natural depth and feel. Sayles' movies are typically populated with real characters, not posing movie stars. This film is true Sayles...so much is at stake for Lianna, and you are drawn into the aspects and dimensions of her life, the complexities and facets of the human sexual nature and of life in general, and what it means to come to terms with being gay.
A very interesting film and certainly a good example of John Sayles
work. He wrote, directed and played the male lead in the film. Sayles,
who wrote Lone Star, Silver City and Passion Fish among many others, is
much better in writing and directing than acting, but he certainly
portrays an asshole husband in a loveless marriage well.
Linda Griffiths, in her first film, gave an incredibly touching performance as a woman who realizes that she is a lesbian after having two children. She goes through the emotions as she realizes the first person she ever loved is leaving her for an old girlfriend; she deals with the loss of her family; and she stumbles through as friends don't quite know how to deal with her.
Anytime a marriage breaks up it is hard, but I believe it is doubly hard in this situation and this film really gives a good picture of what all have to go through.
Writer/director John Sayles went with this film where few other
directors would have dared to venture at that time. His Lianna is a
film dealing with the coming out of a young woman in the midst of a
failing marriage. Lianna is a 33 year old woman married to a
self-centered college teacher and mother of two children. Though her
family does not seem to greatly prosper, it would appear on the surface
that Lianna lives a comfortable life. Just when her husband pushes
things too far, Lianna starts up a sexual relationship with her night
school teacher. Lianna cares enough for this woman that she becomes
openly gay, and moves out of her home. She quickly learns that her
coming out may cause more problems than she originally bargained for.
First of all, she is forced to live in a tiny apartment and financially support herself. The job market of this college town seems weak, and there isn't much out there in terms of decent employment. As one might expect, Lianna's children are somewhat alienated by their mother's new lifestyle. Their father no doubt helps further the alienation. Lianna's best friend no longer wishes to speak to her. And perhaps worst of all, the woman she came out for, does not wish to be committed to her. She has another woman in another town she is still very much in love with. The rest of the film deals with Lianna coming to terms with her new lifestyle, and trying her best to fight off her sudden loneliness and isolation.
John Sayles, who even plays a supporting part, does a very good job with the material. He had to make this film on a budget of less than half a million dollars, and all of that pretty much came from private donors. The film ends up looking pretty good, but many of the locations are somewhat bleak in appearance. Sayles handles perhaps the most important scene with very good tact. In it, Lianna is trying to come out to Ruth (the teacher) without actually saying it point blank. Ruth is clearly attracted to Lianna, but she obviously fears making a move before she is sure that's what Lianna wishes. Notice how she delicately moves her hand through Lianna's hair as Lianna details a close relationship with a female friend at summer camp. And yes, there are numerous sex scenes. On the surface, this type of film might sound like exploitation, but Sayles doesn't let it slip into that territory. He allows his characters to keep their dignity, and we the audience care deeply about them before its over.
The film is not necessarily about the triumphs and empowerment of coming out. Lianna in fact seems mostly miserable once she allows herself to be honest about her sexuality. That makes this film a somewhat depressing endeavor. Only in the film's final scene is there any sliver of hope that the protagonist can gain acceptance from someone was alienated by her change of lifestyle. The film stumbles a bit in terms of how it handles Lianna's relationship with her husband. He is shown to us as being a truly reprehensible slug from the beginning. I think it would have been more interesting to show him as being either likable or at the very worst simply inattentive. Being as though we already know what a jerk he is, there really isn't any where else the story can go with him. Maybe it would have been more interesting to show how a more typical man would have reacted to his wife coming out. Just a thought.
Overall this is a daring and thoughtful film. Linda Griffiths is particularly outstanding as the title character, and the rest of the cast is fairly convincing as well. The film scores points for dealing with its characters as well-defined individuals, rather than simple stereotypes. If you can find a copy of this little-known film, by all means give it a look. 8 of 10 stars.
"Lianna" might be a bit outdated, but John Sayles captured it very well. He captured a woman from Alberta, Canada going through a change in her life when she was in a unhappy marriage with two children. Lianna saw something in herself when she saw Ruth, the professor, in class. Though the relationship between the two women were not always wonderful and loving at times, they have had their moments. Lianna could always turn to her friend, a non lesbian, for comfort. The movie began in the playground just like it ended in the playground. I will say this. Lianna loved her children. Though they didn't understand why their mother was a lesbian. I believe deep down in their hearts they knew she loved them. It is still a great movie from the early 1980's.
When John Sayles makes a film, it's usually because he has a very good
reason. A man who's made his life in film averting the Hollywood approach,
Sayles stories are densely layered character dramas, unencumbered with
camera tricks, special effects, or deception.
The idea that Lianna (Linda Griffiths) needs a change of life in and of itself is not surprising. As a young college student, she had succumbed to the advances of one of her professors, then quit school to marry him. Now, twelve years and two children later she finds her life mundane, and loveless. She needs a change.
A John Sayles film is a personal experience. He leads us down a road deluged with emotion, conflict and only some spattering of resolve. The rest he leaves for us. Sometimes we have to fill in the blanks to even the most difficult questions posed. And there's nothing wrong with that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
That I was reminded of friends and their struggles, follies and foibles
in watching this film is perhaps its highest praise. Sayles has
succeeded in creating a real world peopled by real characters who act
appropriately to the world around them, and at the same time tells a
story about love and friendship that is transcendent. (What is a
spoiler for a film like this? if you don't want to know what happens
don't go further. It will not kill you or even harm your appreciation
if you do, this is just not that kind of movie.)
Lianna is married to a narcissistic college professor who dated her when she was a student. She falls for yet another professor. This one not as narcissistic and yet still flawed. Lianna's second professor is not accident she is the kind of person in authority that Lianna falls for. That this new professor has a conscience and I think means well for Lianna is a step forward, but first Lianna has a lot to learn about love and the effects of the rashness that sometimes comes with it.
In her zeal to declare her love to the world, she rips that world apart and must spend the rest of the movie putting it back together. It is how she works with the betrayal and lack of support - plus help from strangers and friends alike - that pulls this movie out of exploitation and into drama.
Sayles wrote a killer script, but he had a fantastic medium for his story in Linda Griffiths. She is so totally in touch with the character, the joys, the doubts and the worries, she shines. the other actors shine as well. Ms. Hallaren perhaps telegraphs her intentions, but no more so than some real people. Sayles is quite mercurial in this lecher/best friend role, but watch out for best friend Sandy played by Jo Henderson, wise and foolish and oh so pivotal.
How friendships work is the real essence of the movie. Coming out is a vehicle for that exploration. The reactions here of various friends again ring true, you know these people, they work.
Many people have commented on the setting, some finding it dreary. It is dreary, dreary the way the world is sometimes dreary. It is a ordinary place where people go through the extraordinary effort called life. Lianna is ultimately brave, though not necessarily the bravest character in the story for we all must deal with the effects of someone else's coming out. It isn't about who you sleep with, but it is how you deal with the person, how do we deal with news that doesn't really change who a person is, but does change how we see them. Lianna has lessons for all of us in this department.
John Sayles, portrays a realistic story of lesbian love. Though the
film is 23 years old, it has all the trappings of a classic film, as
the subject matter and the characters could easily take place at any
time, in any place in history or currently.
Intimate and delicate, the story of a young married woman (Lianna) who's restrictive world of stuffy husband, kids and homemaking is slowly coming undone. For enrichment, she takes a class at a local college where her teacher, Ruth, makes a great impact on Lianna who sees Ruth as a strong, decisive, smart woman. These qualities are the initial attraction for Lianna and as her friendship with her grows, Lianne feels long forgotten feelings she had as a young girl before she settled into the more traditional role of marriage, children and the occupation of housewife.
At the end of the film, Lianna is free in many aspects of her life and as the credits role, the viewer can't help but take that feeling of relief and freedom with her . A lovely film.
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