I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) Poster

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One of my all-time favorite movies
harry-lin6 November 2002
I first saw this Canadian film when it was released in 1987. I was a college undergraduate, and the film has never left my memory since then. The movie is original, startling, lovely, hilarious, and thought-provoking.

It's a shame that it hasn't been made available on DVD, but I read on the director's official Web site (patriciarozema.com) that Miramax Films is going to re-release the movie. That's exciting! Perhaps they'll also release it on DVD. (Miramax, if you're reading this -- put it out on DVD!)

If you ever have a chance to see this film, see it.
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Absolutely Magical!
sibie15 July 2002
The wonder of this film, like one of the paintings it features, can't be described in words. It is pure magic in the most abstract form! One can't help but adore Polly's originality (Sheila McCarthy). This is a fantastically crafted and acted film. It will trigger your imagination and place a smile on your face. After the film is over, you won't be able to stop dreaming. I can't watch it enough! It is very sad that it is no longer in print (at least last I checked) and I am very lucky to have purchased it in the Laser Disc format when I did. I have been a fan of this film since I was 20 and am still a fan 14 years
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True Original
jlarkin519 March 2006
Sheila McCarthy shines in this exploration of the imagination, the artist and the self.

It is one of my top ten films of all time because of its originality and ,of course, McCarthy's offbeat and touching performance. She creates something truly original that has not been matched in a female comedic performance since.

Direction is crisp, unexpected and magical. One can see why it was given a standing ovation at Cannes.

It is one of the few films that can me on a pure emotional level..appealing to the misunderstood individual.

Anyone who has felt like they don't fit in will love this movie. Be sure to watch the closing credits to the end.

Now On DVD with Rozema's commentary.
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Art at a Different Level and Beyond Reach
KC19 April 2010
This is one of the two simple films about art that made deep impact on me even after all these years since their releases.

Patricia Rozema's "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" deals with the subjectivity of art which is always relevant in any context. The master's childish art is readily being celebrated and consumed like fast food while the amateur's masterpiece is undiscovered but remain sacred. It reminds us to keep true art away from the corruption of consumerism.

Victor Erice's "The Quince Tree Sun" is probably the most boring film you'll ever watch, but just as the artist finds it impossible to capture the shifting sunlight, we realize it is no longer important to finish a piece of painting, if at all it is possible, as art is in the process not the result. We consciously experience the passing of time while watching the film! Brilliant.

Both films allow art to be taken to a different level, beyond the reaches of commercialism and physicality.
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Good indie-movie.
Fedor Petrovic (fedor8)7 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
An intelligent and unusual "art house"-type movie about a modest and eccentric dreamer (McCarthy). This low-key comedy melodrama isn't pretentious, though; quite to the contrary - it makes fun of pretentious bull***t-talk that takes place in the pop-art scene. The comments two of these "art experts" make while evaluating a series of paintings is very funny and effective; stuff like "his boyish bravado has a certain charm", "he is somewhat incapacitated by his emotions", "New York is wild for his oblique pragmatism", "the static structure is offset by his whimsical sociological references", "there is a hopefulness in his contextural destruction", or "the lack of resolution of his themes almost adds to a vaguely literal internal transformation of the subject" (my favourite). And while the two are spouting off this verbal malarkey, McCarthy eavesdrops on their conversation and naively nods. McCarthy is perfectly cast, totally convincing, and easily the best in an obscure cast. Two plot twists at the end. An interesting soundtrack.

If you're interested in reading my extensive satire of modern art, "Picasso", contact me by e-mail.
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A beautiful piece of art.
MadRaina26 November 1999
This canadian masterpiece staring Sheila McCarthy is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. McCarthy's character will touch young starving artists in many ways. The film which is very low key has some amazing scenes that keep your eyes on the screen and your mouth wide open. I feel this movie is very misunderstood by some critics. It cannot be taken too literally. the "daydream sequences" are just that, daydreams. They are there to show you polly's (McCarthy) true inner structure. If you can find this movie, and you like artsy movies that make you think, buy it. Don't bother renting it, because you will just end up buying it anyway.
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A Stunningly Realised Piece of Work-= get it now
gr15kg25 June 2002
One of my top ten favorite films of all time, this is beautifully put together- I can't fault the film in any area, other than its not been released on DVD yet. This is easily the best film to come out of Canada, and Patricia Rozema will have a hard time bettering it. The whole movie plays like an ethereal dream with occasional lapses into consciousness. There are some very funny pieces, and some touching moments too. If you ever rent or buy a film because of a review on here, let it be this one, its totally brilliant, and one of the only films ever to be given a standing ovation by the critics in Cannes when it was first shown.

Truly magical.
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The best film I've seen on the nature of artistic inspiration
grahammeredithjones28 January 2005
This is a wonderful film. I first saw it back in the eighties and it is still fresh in the mind. The title is a quote from T S Eliot and refers to epiphany. There seem to be a lot of spiritual references. Did everyone else not notice the significance in the older woman being named Gabrielle and the younger Mary? Gabrielle could not create what the earthier Mary could but was her muse. I am not sure of this but Polly in the Canadian accent sounds like Paul-y. The disseminator of the faith? Any comments from anyone? Yes it was small budget but still beautiful. Polly was hilarious. I loved Mary (not that she would be likely to give me the time of day). Check out a book that the actress, Ann-Marie MacDonald, wrote: Fall on Your Knees.

Anybody know where I can get the DVD in London?
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Polly is a true Taoist, but she doesn't know it, of course!
jeffersontao19 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my favorite movies of all time! Probably number two on my mental list. The cast is superb. I can't imagine anyone else filling the parts more perfectly. The imagery and the very way the movie is presented is a work of art. It's like art imitating life imitating art. There is also musical treats, for one, Delibes "The Flower Duet" from his opera "Lakme,"! From my Taoist perspective, this movie reflects the wisdom of letting life happen instead of trying to aggressively make it happen. When Polly tried to be something she was not meant to be, the results were disastrous. When she finally realized her inner nature was not a weakness, but her strength, she triumphed! Mary Joseph was the catalyst that made Polly finally begin to realize she was not some freak by defending the photo on the floor, and clarifying her own relationship with Gabrielle. It was especially interesting when Polly and Gabrielle were chatting about relationships and society during one of Polly's dreams. The Freudian quote reflects a wisdom that has been lost in time, but still very valid and true. This movie also mirrors the disconnect and love/hate relationships between artists and art critics. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone under 30 unless you are the "old soul" type or somewhat intellectual. Otherwise, you won't get it, and there's no special effects, graphic violence or steamy sex. The insight and wisdom required to understand a movie such as this comes mostly with age. I have also known people that have acquired such insight via LSD, as I probably did, but I DO NOT RECOMMEND that route! The reasons why are because it's 40 years too late, Timothy Leary is dead, and without such a guide as he, the side effects from an illegally or poorly manufactured drug would be dangerous and deadly!
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Slight but interesting film
bratkievich30 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Quirky little film about a seemingly aimless temp worker that starts working at an art gallery. Polly, the main character, is delineated in detail: lovable but mildly exasperating in her cluelessness and lack of social skills (you are constantly concerned that she's gonna embarrass herself and, quite often, she does) although she's a bit of a stereotype (the innocent, pure, slightly clueless person with a golden heart and the best intentions that gets herself and others into trouble). She's lonely too, and this detail is wonderfully depicted in a scene which shows her preparing some food and eating by herself, with only her cat as company. Her hobby is photography and she hopes that her boss will like her photographs, with heart-breaking results when Gabrielle tells her, without knowing that they're Polly's, that her photos are "trite made flesh." The pain she feels will speak volumes to anyone who fancied him/herself an artist only to face the scorn or disinterest of others. However, the truthfulness of this moment is slightly marred by the ending in which Gabrielle seems to realize that her photos are indeed good; this seems like too much of a tacked-on happy ending. Gabrielle's character is not so well delineated, although it's quite poignant to see a person who is fascinated by and knows a lot about art and yet knows that she has no talent herself.
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Sweet and funny; also asks deep questions about nature of art
kitsune-427 October 2007
This is an intellectually ambitious film about meta-art: What is the relation between an art object and intense aesthetic experience? What is the value of the art object if it is devoid of the cultural "frame"? How are certain people legitimized to confer value upon art objects?

The film deals with big questions. Even so. Its main character is someone who is so endearing that you care very much about what happens next. It counts as an offbeat "warm 'n' fuzzy" flick. The humor is both deft and sweet.

As someone who teaches at a college, I think this would be a very *teachable* film. Use it to raise and illustrate these questions in an aesthetics class, or in a class discussing the creation/ propagation of artistic canons.
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I want to be buried with this movie.
Roberta30 December 2006
I usually don't watch movies more than once. But this lovely film is one that I have regular cravings for. It is so smart, unpretentious, and unassuming. It's subtle and multi-layered and such a treat to view.

It's a quiet film too, with refreshing insights and ideas about relationships. The contemplative pace of the film gives you time to enjoy the ideas and feelings that come up in the characters and in yourself. On more than one occasion while watching the film my breath was taken away with surprise and delight.

I guess another draw for me is the female characters: how refreshing to meet women who are multidimensional, portrayed with authority and authenticity (and having interesting faces I could watch forever).

And I love how the story is so simple, a late bloomer's coming of age (or rather coming into her creativity)--a 'bildungsroman' in a film about art.

Thanks Patricia Rozema et al! What a treasure.
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Absolute Beauty
fandangonoir25 July 2000
What can one say? This is an utterly gorgeous film. It's sort of a cross between 'Brazil' and Woody Allen movies. You can always tell a good director by their choice of background music in their films. This film's director is expert at picking music that adds to the wonderment of many scenes perfectly. Polly the weirdo redhead was one of the great movie characters of the 1980's. You don't just see this film, you live it.
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Four Weddings and a Funeral
tedg10 May 2006
Wow. There are four rather fine things in this, and one that ruins it all.

First the good. The key role is perfectly realized. Though the supporting actors and the way things are staged are mundane, this actress and the writer/directer created someone memorable. This was Napoleon Dynamite before he was cool.

While dialog and pacing are uneven, the music isn't. It is uniformly apt. The performance and the music alone are just about enough to sustain the thing until the end.

And there's one brilliant piece of stagecraft. Some paintings figure in the plot. These paintings have impressed our heroine who -- it is made explicit -- is our narrator. She describes them as miraculous and when they are shown, they are blank, white glowing rectangles. Until this point, the imaginary and real segments are clearly distinguished, and when we see this clever trick, we move forward on our chair, waiting for what is next.

And the final great thing is the way the thing is structured. In several ways, we are told that this is an artwork that is about artwork and the "message" is both in the story and how the story is told: there are matters of authorship and genuineness; a bit about filming and being filmed; other bits about reality and representations of reality. Hey, we see, this is one smart woman behind this. And we lean ever more forward in the chair, ready to leap.

And then the end hits us with such a banal notion that we are gobsmacked back. Hey! Is that all? All that energy and cleverness to tell us something Art Linkletter or Reader's Digest could (and does)? Jees.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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Well, i've seen movies that made less sense and more of a point
courtinfrance19 January 2004
It just didn't move me. This movie clearly has a cult following. I rented it in the DVD re-release format. The acting was forced. The blocking resembled a bad high-school play. And I just wasn't moved by it. I would like to meet the people who remember this movie so fondly when it was first released in 1987 to learn more about why they liked it.
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Dylan Horrex11 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I believe that I've Heard the Mermaids Singing should have done far better in the box office. It is a clever movie that tells an original story about a unique character who takes quirkiness to a new, and quite charming, level. The film utilizes the main character, Polly's, odd dreams to foreshadow and explain events throughout its 81 minuet running. Although some may find it to be too complicated, or think that it makes no sense, a closer look reveals many creative and clever elements that can help one better understand the film and its characters. Some such elements are Polly's first dream, which in about a minuet manages to foreshadow the entire film, and the film's final scene, which demonstrates that Gabrielle has come to realize that aging does not take away from beauty, thanks to Polly. The film also shows its aptitude for symbolism in the names of certain locations, namely the Church Gallery. The art gallery's name represents Polly's "worship," as one could call it, of Gabrielle and the world of art. Despite all of this, I've Heard the Mermaids Signing only grossed $1,408,491 in the box office, far less than the 597th most grossing movie of all time, Collateral, which made $100,003,492. I believe that a movie with such a creative plot, and with characters that are extremely relatable and lovable, deserves to be much higher on the list. A list, I feel I should point out, that it didn't even make. Saying that this film is under-appreciated is a massive understatement.
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claudewadams4 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I would love to embrace Canadian cinema. I really would. And I don't mind a little weirdness. But mermaids in Lake Ontario? Silly words passing as satire? Somebody owes me an hour and twenty minutes. That's what I squandered on this foolishness masked as art. Please tell me we can do better than this. (And the thing was taxpayer-funded!) Good grief! They tell me people stood up at Cannes when it was over. What did they do immediately after standing up? Was it a polite exodus, or was it a stampede. How could you "spoil" this? In the final scene, after the credits, Polly opens the door to her squalid apartment we see a forest scene. They wander off to together and we go to black. Hello! This is one of those films, conceived in a disgruntled moment, that needs subtitles to guide us thru the morass of symbolism and allusion
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charming insignificance
Michael Neumann28 November 2010
Good things often come in surprisingly small packages, and this Canadian export is a very small thing indeed: a low budget sleeper describing the private world of Polly Vandersma, the 'organizationally impaired' Person Friday and part-time assistant for the curator of a high-brow Toronto art gallery. Painfully shy, prone to daydreams and distraction, socially inept and insecure, Polly is a simple person attracted to what she calls 'art things': obscure painting, modern architecture, the oblique language of intellectuals. It's a world she's not well equipped for (to say the least), and after developing an innocent crush on her curator boss she learns the hard way exactly how cold the world of 'art things' can be. Her story is both poignant and funny, built around the framing device of Polly's odd, confessional video diary, in which she recounts the one, glorious moment in her otherwise negligible life when she broke free of her shell. But the real secret behind the fragile charm of the movie is Sheila McCarthy's disarming star performance, capturing all of Polly's clumsy optimism and curiosity. Originally shown with 'Paradiso', a long (long) animated wet dream from the Age of Aquarius.
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Artless - totally artless!
tomm-2519 December 2011
This film was made by artless people - artless writer(s), artless actors, artless cinematographer(s), artless sound, costumes, editor(s), and everything else and all other film folx who should know better.

The only attraction was Sheila McCarthy's hair. I watched it to the end, ever hopeful that this piece if incompetent film-making would have some redeeming feature(s). NONE found. It's simply an amateurish PoS.

I do not understand the positive reviews that others have given, nor the overall high score.

Perhaps the offbeat, somewhat mystical/fanciful nature displayed from the outset held up for those who liked this film. It certainly did not for me.
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