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
I saw this last night and just can't stop thinking about it. This film is off-the-charts audacious in its blend of tragedy and dark humor, with cinematography that ranges from powerfully beautiful (the South African sequences reminded me of John Ford movies like "The Searchers"), to a seedy quality that subtly conveys the weirdness of its humor and unethical qualities of its characters. The film also never flinches from showing us such taboos as male nudity and the indignities of a terminally ill man. Like the movie "Babel," this movie contains three stories, two of which are set in far-off lands, all dealing with complex issues and tragic ignorance.
The first story is about how practically an entire village in China acquires AIDS due to poverty-driven greed. The film's edge is in how it turns the tables on us psychologically; the people are not what they seem, and greed is not always clear-cut when it is a basic means of survival. The second story is a strange tale of a mother who handles the death of her husband and 'acceptance' of the fact that her son has AIDS in a way that leaves the viewer extremely perplexed and uncomfortable, which is actually a good thing. This film doesn't flinch from showing us AIDS stories we don't want to believe, such as those people who purposefully acquire it. It mixes dark humor with beautiful metaphors, such as the mother driving her sports car into an enormous pile of red leaves, until she's practically buried in it. The final seconds of that story leave a chilling print embedded on one's brain; what is this woman thinking?? The third story juggles a whole range of issues regarding ignorance, religion, greed, selfishness and selflessness, and balances them all on a head of a pin. One false move and the story would have come off as preachy or exploitational. Again, there is an iconic scene that stays indelibly in my mind; the beautiful and horrific sight of a woman's dead body lying under a thin blanket of mud.
The entire film does has some rough edges, which may at first put some viewers off. I found Olympia Dukakis' narration a bit difficult to accept at the beginning of the movie (during a strange and fascinating African ritual of male circumcision), but it all comes together by the very end - in fact, quite powerfully. The film also jumps back and forth in past and present, which may at times seem confusing, but the ultimate effect makes us reread our initial assumptions. And the first film in particular is quite slow, although again, I think there was a point to its languorous pace. We all know that the disease in question in this film is AIDS, but the location used in China is so rural that one feels that the time period could be any time in the past fifty years. In fact the circumcision scene at the beginning of the film makes one unaware of even what century we are witnessing! That I think, is the director Thom Fitzgerald's genius. I read a review that criticized this movie for not mentioning the word AIDS, which actually I was unaware of. But the fact is; this movie could be about any disease, as even the Chinese initial reaction to SARS was one of denial. This film does certainly illustrate the stigma associated with AIDS, but the fallout is much deeper than sexual practices in developing countries. The reason it has spread, as this film so eloquently shows, is not because of people's sex lives; it's spread because of ignorance, poverty, superstition, fear and greed. If we can just focus on fighting those battles, then maybe maybe we can win.
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