Firing on all physical and emotional cylinders, director/co-writer Denis Langlois has masterfully succeeded in morphing an intriguing news item into a multi-layered film that goes far beyond narrative and deep into the universal human conundrums of purpose, pain and pride.
A distant cousin of Ziad Touma’s Saved by the Belles (2003, cross-reference below) Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma shares the Montréal setting and initial set-up of a naked man trying to reclaim his life after losing his memory (with a touch of Momento thrown in for dramatic measure), but then embraces drama where the Belles take a much lighter route to examining “who we are.” Still, what fun that both films share the considerable talents of Steven Turpin—in the former, initially uncertain of his sexual orientation whereas the Brightons (you have to see it!) are steadfastly queer from the first frame.
Langlois’ images and metaphors (with major assistance from Larry Lynn’s deft cinematography) flood the mind with nuance that lingers far after the credit reel. Nude, unaroused, near-fetal with a wooden skid for his bed, James Brighton (he at first believes, but eventually reverts to Matthew Honeycutt when claimed by his mother/aunt and repatriated to Tennessee) has no recollection of how he ended up bare and alone in the Village on the eve of the ever-popular Black and Blue Festival. Rescued by the police then tucked under the attentive wing of SOS Gay member Félix Blain (Norman Helms, wonderfully understated as he provides care and comfort but would not be averse to deeper penetration into the gradually unravelling pre-life of his charge), Brighton (Dusan Dukic) savours both Blain’s love of Mozart piano concerto slow movements (tantalizingly echoed after being reunited, forgiven and saved by his fundamentalist preacher/brother nearly a lifetime later) is no match for the allure of club music and sexy studs.
Contrasts and paradoxes are the only constant, even as the awful blanks of a ride from hell re-emerge into, now, Honeycutt’s consciousness. Hot on his trail is criminology PhD candidate Sylvie (Karyne Lemieux). She lays out her suppositions and discoveries on the glass-divider of her sparse research cubicle, using Post It notes which, like her subject’s life, can be manipulated, re-written or tossed at will. Nice touch.
A marvellous sequence is the inevitable appearance on Real Facts—a reality TV show with a huge U.S. market—raises the “I” question. Not psychology, that’s “i” for imposteur, part of an ongoing scene-shift device that uses selected words from the dictionary to foreshadow the action to come (“O” for oublier works beautifully.).
The morning after an all-night bender,—having left early the Christmas party given in his honour to go clubbing with friends and driving another stake into his host’s heart—the unbedded Honeycutt finally breaks down, trashes some of Blain’s still “sticky” dishes and cries “I want my fucking life back … Everyone projects their fantasies on me.” Touchez! But he seems amenable to acting as a drive-in screen from time to time.
The back-home reunion fails to rekindle the missing past—only Charlie the dog resonates with his former life. Events, of course, conspire to put the pieces back and dramatically explain the cause of the psychological trauma that shut down the recall of the young gay man who lost so much more than his memory as, concurrently, he found love and—so inspired—uncharacteristically decided to come to the aid of strangers.
Undaunted, Sylvie continues to follow her multiple-identity subject but is finally rewarded with an impersonal dismissal from the magnificent obsession.
On a wider plane, with no one prepared to fully reveal their outer much less inner selves and, similarly, camera shots only illuminating part of the big picture, little wonder the “conceit” of memory-loss holds such fascination for filmmakers everywhere. JWR