Title: Lilies (1996)
Author(s): Michel Marc Bouchard (screenwriter, based on his play); John Greyson (director)
Price: Varies, available on DVD
My review: One of the best films — let alone one of the best gay films — of the last 15 years, Lilies is, at its heart, a love story.
It is 1952 and Bishop Bilodeau (Marcel Sabourin) arrives at a Quebec prison to hear the last confession of Simon (the amazing Aubert Pallascio) a dying man who, forty years ago, was tried, convicted and imprisoned for the murder of another man in a small, rural town. When the Bishop takes his place in the prison confessional, he comes face to face with Simon, hardly dying and, as the Bishop comments, much older than when they had last seen one another.
The stage is set for an impressive story. The remainder of the prisoners (with the implicit permission of the prison guards and the prison chaplain), lock his holiness in the confessional and what ensues is a trip back to 1912 where we learn that the Bishop and Simon knew each other all too well. Bilodeau is forced to watch as the prisoners reenact his and Simon’s past and the events that led up to Simon’s incarceration.
In a nod to the age of Shakespeare, the prisoners assume the roles of both males and females, showing Bilodeau the truth of those days: how young Simon (Jason Cadieux) was befriended by young Bilodeau (Matthew Ferguson, with a maniacal intensity), who desperately wants Simon to join him in the seminary; how Simon has a befriended another young man named Vallier (performed with heartbreaking honesty by the spectacular Danny Gilmore), the son of an eccentric countess (Brent Carver) who has lost everything in life but her adoring son; how the triangle of three men — two in love with the beautiful Simon — can only lead to tragedy.
Greyson as director doesn’t confine us to the prison. The film moves fluidly from the cold gray stones of incarceration to the breathtaking beauty of the French Canadian countryside as a lady of means, Lydie-Anne (Alexander Chapman, wonderfully warm, yet icy), arrives by balloon and sets her sights on Simon. Torn between wanting to better his station by marrying Lydie-Anne and his fearful, honest love of Vallier, Simon (pronounce it with a French accent) finds himself in the middle of a powder keg as Lydie-Anne and young Bilodeau set in motion the events that will tear apart his life.
Cadieux, as the young Simon, is definitely the bee-stung lips eye-candy of the piece, and the movie would have been made better with a stronger actor. Still, he is quite effective and, for those who keep score of these things, you get some rear nudity. The standout is Danny Gilmore as Vallier who should be a massive star. The most moving moment for me is when Vallier, alone in his room, professes his love for Simon in a poem, and is discovered by his mother who mistakes the ode as being dedicated to a long lost father. Gilmore is also very easy on the eyes and you do get to see all of him (literally and figuratively). The script does get a tiny bit muddle in the end, but the photography, the performances, and the directing are spectacular from beginning to end. Director John Greyson (of whom I’m not particularly a fan) does his best work guiding all of this, resulting in a lyrically beautiful film.
Rarely are coming-of-age films this good or this inventive. Try renting it. I would be surprised if you were disappointed