When Night Is Falling

Directed by Patricia Rozema

"The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. Soon it will be the hour for robbers and murderers. Evil is breaking its chains and goes through the world like a mad dog... So it shall be. Therefore let us be happy, let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. Therefore it is necessary, and not in the least shameful, to take pleasures in the little world, good food, gentle smiles, fruit-trees in bloom and waltzes"

--excerpted from Fanny & Alexander by Ingmar Bergman.

Camille (Pascale Bussieres), a professor at a Protestant college, is engaged to Martin (Henry Czerny), a sympathetic minister and fellow professor who clearly loves Camille. As "career Christians," they are urged to get married and to become co-chaplains of the New College of Faith. But Camille is vaguely unhappy with Martin and her life, and when her beloved dog dies suddenly, she begins to lose her grip. As she sits weeping to herself in a laundromat, Camille meets Petra (Rachael Crawford), a flamboyant circus performer. Anyone who has ever lost a pet knows how intangibly devastating it can be, and Camille is sincerely shattered. Petra realizes this, tries to offer solace and is so attracted to Camille that she finds a way for them to cross paths again. When they do meet again Petra flirts brazenly with Camille, who is deeply offended, confused, yet curious as well. Petra, who lives in her own paganly decorated trailer, is part of a "modern primitive" circus, not unlike The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow filled with freaks, artists and jolly folk of all ilks. Petra, who is looking to have Camille "under the moonlight with her head thrown back," balks when Camille sheepishly asks if they could just be friends instead ("like Thelma and Louise, but without the guns?"), wanting to take her time. The two do become friends and Petra takes Camille hang gliding even though she has to convince her that the price of adventure is fear. For the first time in her proper and very intellectual life, Camille’s desire comes rushing forward. She is shocked to find that she is infatuated with Petra. Soon she believes that she is in love.

But all is not well with the circus. Hounded by creditors, the circus must leave town, threatening to tear the new lovers apart. Meanwhile, part of Camille is still deeply attached to Martin, who is away trying to get a paper of his published in a seminarian journal while Camille and Petra discover each other. When Martin returns from his business trip and begins to figure out what has been happening, his frustration comes a hair’s breadth from turning into rage and tries getting through to her that "experimentation" is one thing, but a three year bond is something else entirely. This is a beautiful little film by Patricia Rozema, who also directed the lovely 1987 character study I Heard The Mermaids Singing. Due to a strict Calvinist upbringing Rozema had seen no films before the age of 16, and this film almost serves as a dialogue for her muse, before and after she escaped the doctrines of the church. Pascale Bussieres is wonderful as Camille, who is able to tread that fine line between confusion and curiosity very well. She has an inner beauty that draws not only Petra, but the viewer. There is a calm in her soul that is so very soothing. There is no trace of anger or impatience in her character whatsoever, instead she turns inward and mentally reviews her situation on such a continual basis, always searching for balance, that her trepidatious innocence is the allure that Petra finds so fascinating. With Bussieres’ almond eyes, auburn hair and porcelain skin, hers is a very classic sense of beauty that is so dissimilar to Petra’s attractiveness (black, sexy, passionate, whimsical) that they make a very complementary match. Petra’s initial impetuosity soon smoothes itself out and Camille’s reticence begins to ebb as they both realize how much they can learn from each other if they can let their blossoming love develop naturally. There is such a well-measured sense of balance in this film that the love scenes are in turn very highly erotic, as well as touching and moving. Perhaps the most difficult thing a person can ever do is look their partner in the eyes while making passionate love, tell them ‘I love you’ and have it sound like the most intimate and genuine thing they’ll ever hear. Bussieres is able to do this effortlessly. The character of Camille is so very obviously treading into deeper waters than she’s ever fathomed before, but she proceeds cautiously enough so that she is able to slowly and wisely understand that the love and understanding she has already been able to appreciate on an intellectual and otherworldly level through the church need not mean that it must be denied to her sensually simply because it’s a body of another gender. In fact, the lovemaking she shares with Petra is so unbridled that it unleashes her enough to be able to bring her new- found passion back to her fiancé, which he duly notices and appreciates.

Don’t misunderstand me: She does cheat on her fiancé, and in so doing, Martin’s anger is perfectly understandable, but by that time the world that Camille has tasted and chooses to be a part of is chosen simply because it is one that is not as blindly judgmental as the church. If anything I would say that the film is too short by half an hour simply because the end is more of an escape than a conclusion, but maybe that’s the point. Or perhaps, in the tradition of Traffaut, Rozema plans to follow-up her story with Part Two.

There aren’t any "evil" characters in this film, each of the leading roles are characters that are drawn and performed so well that you do end up caring for all of them, so much so that when Martin realizes what has developed between his fiancée and her new girlfriend, the delight you feel for Camille is offset by the empathy you feel for Martin. No matter how painful it is for Martin to lose the love of his life, the film makes it clear that it is much more than just sex with another woman that has persuaded Camille away: It is a way of life that has more to do with living than the cloistered, regimented facades she has grown to endure her entire life. If anything you wonder why Martin doesn’t join them, too.

I hope this film gets a general release and finds an audience in the shopping malls because it could very gently and significantly open up conversations across middle America about the relationship between desire and gender.