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‘Love and Human Remains’ (R)

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 07, 1995

At the heart of the allegorical "Love and Human Remains" is a question: Can a group of dark-humored twentysomethings find love and happiness through sex without being murdered by a serial killer in the process?

The first English-language film by Canadian director Denys Arcand ("Jesus of Montreal") proposes that loneliness and terror are unavoidable hazards of the primal search for identity. The cord connecting fear and contentment is Arcand's chatty, cynical humor.

The current crop of twenties angst is not fresh; it has been exhaustively mined in the TV show "Friends," the movie "Singles" and seemingly everywhere in print and pop music. But Arcand plumbs deeper. These are anchorless young adults, adrift without a moral compass. Arcand takes these pliable, unarmed characters and forces them to confront disturbing questions: How much danger are you willing to risk for a chance at happiness? Can you change your sexual preference without losing your identity? Who among us is capable of making the leap from desperation to homicide?

The film's ensemble cast will be unfamiliar to American audiences. Actor-turned-waiter David (Thomas Gibson), who is homosexual, lives with his former lover, Candy (Ruth Marshall), who is a freelance book reviewer. She is not a lesbian but is willing to learn. Why not? Nothing else has worked. She is still in love with David despite, or maybe because of, his sexual preference. She is constantly searching; he is constantly cracking wise.

Candy: "Why don't you just be yourself?"

David: "Which one?"

David is devastatingly handsome and attractively laid-back—everybody in the movie seems to be in love with him. He is sage, but he is weak and corrupt. He poisons everyone he touches.

Through these two filter the other characters: David's 17-year-old busboy (Matthew Ferguson), who is fascinated but frightened by the gay lifestyle; a psychic dominatrix (Mia Kirshner), who adds a surreal element; a lesbian schoolteacher (Joanne Vannicola) who entices Candy; and David's civil-servant friend (Cameron Bancroft), who broods.

Interpreting character and dialogue is Arcand's strength, and he effectively weaves in a subplot about a murderer who rips one earring off of each female victim he rapes, tearing the ear lobe. The killer could easily be considered a metaphor for AIDS or casual sex, but more important, he represents the idea of consequence that stalks each action of the characters.

In Hitchcockian fashion, Arcand deliciously swings long, grabbable earrings from the lobes of female characters. They dangle there in full view, like the women's sexual identities—showy, fragile and defenseless, as they are fondled by male characters who may or may not be ax murderers.

"Love," adapted from Brad Fraser's off-Broadway play "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love," is filmed in bleak, stark tones in an unnamed Canadian city seemingly devoid of vegetation. The movie's unlikely, feel-good ending doesn't quite work, but it doesn't really hurt the clever, sardonic nature of Arcand's penetrating commentary.

Love and Human Remains is rated R for violence, sexual situations and profanity.

Copyright The Washington Post

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