JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Saved by the Belles (Director: Ziad Touma) - May 22, 2003

Saved by the Belles

4 4
90 min.

Reviewed at the 2003 Inside Out Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival
First feature shows promise

Ziad Touma’s first feature film is a visual and aural delight that admirably demonstrates both craft and style. All that remains for greatness is the so-rare ability of finding a satisfying ending to its far-reaching script (co-written with Brian C. Warren, who, as Sheena, gets the added delight of delivering many of his/her own lines). The current version seems trite and out of step with its universal theme of establishing identity through self-discovery.

After a funky opening sequence, it’s clear that Montréal’s hedonistic Village and 24/7 nightlife will be the ideal backdrop for this wonderfully costumed romp through the caverns, ships, clubs, bath houses and beds of Canada’s liveliest city.

Initially, “Chris” (début film for Steven Turpin) named by his guardian sisters (Warren and Karen Simpson who simply dazzles as Scarlet) steals our hearts as the total-amnesia sufferer whose only distinguishing mark was self-inflicted during a disastrous youthful encounter with his own zipper. Worse still, it can only be “appreciated” when his most private limb is in full bloom, providing a plot point that every audience will hope to see unravelled. But Turpin (cheekily draped in navy rigs that must have been rented from the wardrobe department of Pierre et Gilles) fades with the script and leaves it to his new family to carry the scenes.

Playing herself (and occasionally with herself) gender illusionist Miss Sheena Hershey is nothing short of brilliant in her “act,” her dialogue (“I don’t like doctors unless they’re paying for dinner”; the send-up of black, New York drag queens of the past is side-splitting), and her emotional range—particularly the inner struggle of shutting Sheena down and letting Brian emerge) and comedic timing—you have to be there. Simpson plays the sarcastic, lonely fag hag compellingly; the duo’s snappy one-upping jabs ring with truth.

The sub-plot of club owner Doug (Don Diamond with just the right touch of lechery) and his mistress adds another dimension of fucked-up relationships but isn’t nearly as useful as the talk show conceit. The Our Miss Brooks-era tell-all show (Tarah Schwartz as Sharon Topper, oversees the sorry proceedings with insincerity, aplomb and a swell do!)—shamelessly exploits Chris’ personal tragedy (“I have no idea who I am. Nobody’s even trying to look for me!”) to boost ratings and—simultaneously—confirms the shallowness of its producers and host.

But even as the characters stumble into or are forced to discover themselves, it’s the music (with virtually a cast of thousands including Mark Anthony, Alain Vinet and the pulsating One-976) that provides the glue to this Paul Morrissey-influenced tour of self; the photography and art design also give this kaleidoscopic flick an invigorating edge.

François Dutil’s camera (with only the intoxicating body-painting scene being too filtered for my taste) soars and darts in perfect complement to the frenzied actions of the troupe. Christian Legaré has found treats for the eye that range from Zebra’s in love to mesmerizing floral accents (having the assistance of emerging designers such as Yso, Denis Gagnon, Kitchen Range and Cosmic Angels further ensures continuous freshness—they’re dress obsessed!).

With this production, Touma has served notice that he’s a director of skill and, with a storyline that evolves from logic and depth, ready to move on to the first rank. JWR

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Director - Ziad Touma
Director of Photography - François Dutil
Art Director - Christian Legaré
Designer - Denis Gagnon
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival Mongrel Media
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