A three-paneled look at the worldwide AIDS crisis: in Montreal, a porn actor (Ashmore) schemes to pass his mandatory blood test; a young nun (Sevigny) makes a personal sacrifice for the benefit of a South African village; in rural China, a black market operative (Liu) posing as a goverment-sanctioned blood drawer jeopardizes an entire village's safety.
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Sister Hilde narrates three separates stories, each directly concerning the AIDS crisis. From a Montréal based order, Sister Hilde, Sister Mary and Clara, a novice, have just arrived in Africa to work as nurses in a plantation's medical center. They learn that legend there has it that having sex with a virgin will transfer infection out from oneself. Because of this legend, an infant girl is raped. Clara, who also learns the main cause of the virus' spread within the plantation, does whatever she can to ensure that Hallyday, the plantation owner, flexes his economic power to right the wrongs on the plantation. Back in Montréal, a porn actor named Denys has been cheating on his mandatory monthly HIV tests, using his father's blood to pass as his own. As he believes he has been exposed to the virus, the negative results will allow him to continue working. When he is caught, his mother, Olive, learns the hard way of her son's true HIV status and his occupation, and devises a strategy for... Written by
There is a lot of sadness in this film artfully rendered, and a measure of grace too, which feels hard-earned. The writer-director Thom Fitzgerald, at the NY screening, said that the reality he encountered while researching it was probably even worse than he could bear to show. (Amazingly, the renowned Dr. David Ho was also present at the screening, which added another hopeful touch: HIV/AIDS progress is being made but, as the film shows, funding and education are still lacking in poor countries, and attitudes are often still messed up in rich ones.) There is a didactic purpose in 3 Needles, but fortunately Fitzgerald has the storytelling skills and the director's talent to bear the load. You may not buy everything in it, and you may be angry at him for some of the tough images and choices, but the human emotion and pain, the weakness and strength are gripping and undeniable. And many of the secondary observations, about characters and place, feel sharp and well-observed.
The prologue is a perfect example of a warm, vibrant image giving way to a shocking one: Teenage boys of an African tribe cover their bodies with a pale paste, un-self-consciously helping each other, though they are naked. It is an ancient ritual and they appear eager, joking around but purposeful. Later they are to be circumcised, the passageway into becoming men. The image of the knife, for reasons which will be instantly clear, is uniquely jolting. Surprisingly the movie manages to sustain the intensity, asking questions while shining a light on different corners of the world.
The acting and cinematography are uniformly good, the latter especially considering the low budget. Most of the South Africans were non-actors, including tribespeople who had never even seen a film. Fitzgerald called this version "the director's cut" since his Canadian distributor previously showed a much different version which cut several scenes, and jumbled the stories together. This might have made sense in another movie, but with the stories on 3 different continents, this version, with each played discretely, seemed much better. Also, Fitzgerald said he shot a 4th scenario which he cut, probably for length. See this on the big screen and it will very likely stay with you.
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