Love & Human Remains (1993)
Directed by Denys Arcand
Cast: Thomas Gibson, Ruth Marshall, Matthew Ferguson, Cameron Bancroft, Joanne Vannicola, Mia Kirshner, Rick Roberts.
1993 99 minutes
Rated: (for violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity, and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 15, 1999.
On the surface, director Denys Arcand's "Love and Human Remains" may appear to be yet another cliched, boring Gen-X comedy, but it is far from that. Taking a more noticable cue from someone such as Robert Altman ("Nashville," "Short Cuts"), the film chronicles the empty lives of seven young adults living in an unnamed Canadian city, all loosely connected in some way. But to spice things up even more, Arcand has also seemed to include a David Lynch-ian subplot that, no doubt, stands as a clever metaphor for AIDS.
Based on the play, "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love," by Brad Fraser, the film's roots center in on two roommates and ex-lovers, David (Thomas Gibson), a cynical, 30-year-old gay man who used to be an actor but has turned to being a waiter, and who firmly believes that there is no such thing as "love," opting instead for one night stands; and Candy (Ruth Marshall), a lonely book reviewer who hates almost everything she reads and desperately wants to find a lover, even though deep down she is in love with David. Back at the restaurant David works at, his 17-year-old busboy, Kane (Matthew Ferguson), begins to hang around him, clearly interested, attracted to, and cautious of, David's gay lifestyle. David's two best friends include the womanizing Bernie (Cameron Bancroft), who sleeps with practically a different woman each night, and Benita (Mia Kirshner), a friendly S&M dominatrix who gets people off by telling them urban legends, and who happens to be psychic. Meanwhile, Candy finds herself gaining, and experimenting with, two partners, a bartender (Rick Robert) and an admiring, caring lesbian, Jerri (Joanne Vannicola). Among all of these interwining character threads is a serial killer, who may or may not be one of these seven people, that has much of the city in a panic, murdering beautiful, vulnerable women and then stealing their earring by gruesomely tearing them off their earlobes.
"Love and Human Remains" is a largely effective, relevant motion picture, due, in part, because of the way director Arcand and screenwriter Brad Fraser, listen to each one of the characters. At first glance, any one of these people could be dismissed as unlikable, cruel, or weird, but very few of them actually are, as we are allowed to observe and learn about them, and the inner workings of their minds. Sure, David may seem hard-edged on the outside, constantly stating that "love" doesn't exist, but that facade is relatively easy to uncover to find a man who, just like Candy, longs to love and be loved by someone who really cares for him. He finds a glimmer of hope in Kane, but David is probably just a little too old for him, and Kane clearly has a lot of internal issues to work out with himself before they could even hope to start a relationship. The love Candy wants, however, comes to her relatively easily when, after having sex with Jerri, Jerri tells her that she passionately and deeply loves her. Too bad for Candy, then, since she realizes at this point that the whole thing was an awful mistake, since she now knows she isn't gay.
The dangers of getting AIDS is one of the major undercurrents flowing through the film, with both David and Candy very cautious about getting it. Even they aren't safe all of the time, as is proven by the serial killer (AIDS, get it?) who might be closer to these two characters than they think. Also, symbolizing their closed-up feelings on life and love, an unidentified cat is constantly standing outside of their apartment window, trying to get in and shield itself from the cold. The symbolism in the film could easily have come off heavy-handed, but they are not, fortunately, shoved down the viewers' throats, and are admittedly creative ideas that wholeheartedly work in spite of themselves. Without giving too much away, even when the climax becomes more or less a violent thriller, I was able to buy it because I had never seen a relatively serious and intelligent look at human relationships intercut with a serial killer subplot.
If all of the roles are mostly well-handled, the performances are mostly top-notch, headed by Thomas Gibson (currently starring on the TV series, "Dharma and Greg"), who is the epidome of perfect casting, both handsome and dark, savvy and brooding. Ruth Marshall is in every way his match on-screen, as a frustrated, weight-concious woman who realizes it is difficult to find love, and even when you do, it might turn out to be the wrong kind. Matthew Ferguson is striking as a teenager confused with his own sexuality, adding an appropriate mixture of curiosity and reluctancy to his unsure character. Mia Kirshner ("Exotica," "The Crow: City of Angels"), now a rising star, in one of her first film roles, somehow brings a touching quality to her memorable role, even though it is probably the most underwritten in the piece. Just from Kirshner's own acting assurance and facial expressions do we discover all about her, as a woman who works for a living as a dominatrix, but like everyone else, is very lonesome in her own life, finding a friend in only David. Cameron Bancroft and Rick Roberts, respectively, are fine in their not dissimilar roles as two lecherous slimeballs (who do not come in contact with each other once during the film). Last but certainly not least, Joanne Vannicola gives perhaps the most purely humane, understandable, and genuinely moving performance in the whole movie, mirroring that of Candy and David, as a schoolteacher who wants more than anything to be with Candy, but whose love is not returned.
"Love and Human Remains" might have spent a little more time with the less fully-realized characters of Benita, Bernie, and the bartender, but on the whole, it is a one-of-a-kind film that takes a lot of courageous chances, story and character-wise, and also marked the impressive english-language directing debut of Arcand ("Jesus of Montreal"). The Canadian landscapes are painted with a grim forebodement, adding to the overall atmosphere of not only the murders, but the struggling relationships of the characters. In spite of the many positive critical reviews it garnered, "Love and Human Remains" did not gain the sort of notices it deserved upon U.S. release in 1995, and is very much a worthwhile rental choice. If anything, you're sure to never see a Gen-X "comedy" like this one ever again.
© by Dustin Putman