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.
The daughter of a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician, recently deceased, tries to come to grips with her possible inheritance: his insanity. Complicating matters are one of her father's ex-students, who wants to search through his papers, and her estranged sister, who shows up to help settle his affairs.
A long weekend brings four women together in the countryside. Virtual strangers, the women are forced to navigate the depths of social interaction. On the surface all seems placid. But the atmosphere of calm is a facade.
A reporter witnesses a brutal murder, and becomes entangled in a mystery involving a pair of Siamese twins who were separated at birth, one of them forced to live under the eye of a watchful, controlling psychiatrist.
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
A Visually Breathtaking, Emotionally Staggering Film of Great Importance
3 NEEDLES as written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden, The Wild Dogs, Blood Moon, Beefcake) is a powerful statement about the insidious spread of AIDS throughout the world, taking us to places we the viewers would rarely visit from the news media emphasis on the disease. The film is three stories in three countries told in tandem not unlike the technique so successfully used in BABEL, CRASH, and TRAFFIC. Employing cinematography of enormous talent and a cast of terrific actors, Fitzgerald manages to share his stories with such sensitivity that every viewer will feel involved in the tragedy that is rotting away our globe.
The film opens with a ceremony in Africa (supposedly South Africa) where young boys undergo ritualistic circumcision, learn the fighting tricks of manhood, and move into society as Men. This single portion of the film is intensely beautiful in its non-voyeuristic observation of an ages old ritual, so beautiful to watch that it calls for Pause/Replay! From Africa we go to rural China where Jin Ping (Lucy Liu, speaking Mandarin only) is the very pregnant force who runs an underground blood bank which while serving the donors with some cash also contaminates the population with HIV virus (we discover that Jin Ling is HIV positive, carrying a baby at risk, and supporting her HIV husband). The trials she encounters in her shady business are nothing to the moment of personal anguish when she delivers her baby without assistance in a cornfield.
Moving to Canada we meet Denys (Shawn Ashmore), a porn star who is HIV positive but steals blood from his ill father for his frequent 'tests' required by the porn director to hide his positive status in order to continue making porn movies to support his family. His mother Olive (Stockard Channing) discovers his status, hears about AIDS patients' ability to cash in on life insurance early, and infects herself so that she can take advantage of the early insurance cash to provide a life of comfort in the small time they both now have for herself and her now fatherless son.
And we return to South Africa where three nuns - Sister Clara (Chloë Sevigny), Sister Hilde Francis (Olympia Dukakis) and Sister Mary John (Sandra Oh) - set up a clinic to treat the villagers, finding only that acts of tremendous self-sacrifice can stave off the spread of the gore of AIDS. The Men we have watched in the beginning of the film walk into the life that faces a world crippled by HIV and the contrast is powerful.
3 NEEDLES' cinematographer Tom Harting deserves awards for the sheer magnificence of his images he captures on film, not only the majestic vistas of Africa and China but also the intimate moments such as Jin Ping's birthing. The musical score by Christophe Beck and Trevor Morris manages to find the atmosphere of each of the three stations of the cross Fitzgerald examines. The acting cast, both the gifted well-known actors as well as the smaller roles by unknowns in each location, is magnificent. If the film has a flaw it is in the unfortunate arena of avoiding preaching: watching and hearing the events is so very powerful that words of summation feel superficial and even insulting. But that is a small flaw in a film of wonder. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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