At a Montréal public grade school, an Algerian immigrant is hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom. While helping his students deal with their grief, his own recent loss is revealed.
In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
Some may balk at naming this a Christmas movie because of the subject matter, while others will see the reason for terming this very near perfect film as such. First, it takes place at Christmas, and second it is a story as sweet as the Gift of the Magi as far as different tales on the concept of gift giving. Lance Daly both wrote and directed KISSES and cast two extraordinary young actors in the main roles. His use of black and white to color in filming and his decision to focus the musical score on the works of Bob Dylan are two further bits of evidence that this is a man with a solid career before him.
In an unnamed little town in Ireland adjoining families live in rather squalid psychological conditions. Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) lives with her parents and siblings in a state of constant bickering and chaos: Kylie's uncle has in the past added his own brand of psychological trauma to her life as we hear later in the film. Next door lives Dylan (Shane Curry), a lad Kylie's age who lives with a severely abusive father and submissive mother. It is Christmas Eve and there is not a bit of joy in the air: Kylie is sent off to walk the baby and is verbally abused by schoolmates while Dylan finally is fed up with his father's behavior (Paul Roe) and after a scuffle flees out the window - with Kylie's help. The two youngsters cannot bear their disgusting family situations and off they go, finding a ride with a riverboat dredger captain (David Bendito) who introduces the to the songs of Bob Dylan. The two end up in Dublin where they struggle for food and shelter, encounter some rather gross behaving people, as well as meeting good people like Bob Dylan (Stephen Rea) for a moment and as they look for Dylan's long vanished brother they meet a street girl (Elizabeth Fuh) who when asked how she survives plying her trade tells Dylan that her only gift to people she meets is a kiss - and she gently kisses Dylan on the cheek. After finding that life on the streets of Dublin at night is very rough the two seek help from a policeman who helps them return to their homes. But a bond has been formed between Kylie and Dylan and the story just ends.
Lance Daly is a sensitive director; the portions of the story taking place in the home of the kids are shot in black and white and it is only as Kylie and Dylan discover Bob Dylan's music courtesy of the dredger does the film gradually turn to color. He also is unafraid to show the joys of the two kids as they buy things in Dublin (Kylie's uncle gave her some hush money) and shoe skate around in their new found freedom and happiness, a factor that makes the rest of the story
which is rather dreary and sad - palatable. The two young actors are
superb and the music of Bob Dylan floods the screen. This is a small budget film with a big message. And part of that message is about the significance of a simple gift.
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