Director: John Greyson
Starring: Brent Carver, Ian D. Clarke, Marcel Sabourin, Aubert Pallascio, Jason Cadieux, Danny Gilmore
Distributers: Wolfe Video
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Genre: Historical Gay Romance
Country of Origin/Language: Canada/English
Rating: R (sexuality & nudity)
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Tj
Summary Review: An engrossing story of revenge, the unfortunate effects of unrequited affection, and a forbidden love between two young men in 1912, brought to life through an imaginative use of flashbacks. Beautifully acted and worth your time if you’re okay with no HEA.
The Blurb: Lilies is an emotionally intense, suspense-laden tale of love, betrayal and revenge between men. In 1952, a Catholic bishop makes an exceptional visit to a prison to hear a dying inmate’s confession. Once inside the chapel, the bishop is taken hostage by Simon, a childhood friend. With the aid of his fellow inmates, Simon’s version of the events that took place forty years earlier are reenacted. The action moves seamlessly through time between the crude prison and the actual events of 1912. The drama culminates on the the tragic night when both men’s fates were decided.
The Review: Lilies is not a new release. I’ve owned it for several years and quite honestly had forgotten about it until I recently found it among my DVDs. Set in a prison in Quebec in 1952, the movie opens with the arrival of a Bishop at the prison to hear the last confession of a dying prisoner. The starkly industrial setting is juxtaposed with a haunting soundtrack of a boys choir (The Hilliard Ensemble for those interested). It brought to mind how the human spirit survives in even the harshest circumstances. The choir is used throughout the movie and had a similar effect – that being for me, how love (even a forbidden love) can survive against all odds.
What the bishop soon learns is that he will himself be held prisoner by a man from his past, Simon, while the inmates reenact events from their boyhood. Simon does confess to the bishop: “I’m about to commit the sin of revenge”.
The reenactment begins with a rehearsal scene from a play (“The Life and Death of St. Sebastian”) with a young Simon and another boy named Vallier. The inmate playing young Simon is portrayed by a beautiful actor (Jason Cadieux) who could be Freddie Mercury’s son – even down to a slight overbite. We are treated to a scene from the rehearsal where Simon is tied to a tree in his St. Sebastian costume – which is almost nothing.
Quickly we learn that Simon and Vallier are more than just friends as Vallier takes advantage of a restrained Simon. Although they only kiss, it’s very moving and you know that this is not the first kiss the boys have shared. We also learn that Vallier is quite open with his feelings to Simon, but Simon is reluctant to reciprocate, only saying that he enjoys Vallier’s company. This a revealing look at both men’s characters, with Simon’s being reflective of more general mores of the era.
The way this scene plays out might at first leave you unsure if this is the prisoners’ real emotions or their portrayal of Simon and Vallier from the past. But your confusion will be brief as then the scene flashes back to what appears to be the actual past – with a very interesting difference – the prisoners continue to portray the various cast of characters – male and female. This flashing back and forth in time and the use of the same actors in the present and past has the interesting effect of tying the past characters and events to the present so we never forget that what is being revealed to us is for the sole purpose of revenge against the bishop, and that what occurred in the past had very real consequences in all of their lives.
There are some fine performances by the lovers, Jason Cadieux (young Simon) and Danny Gilmore (Vallier) – beautiful young men who will make you ache for their HEA. Brent Carver is quite remarkable as Valier’s mother, the seemingly mad Countess De Tilly and Alexander Chapman’s Lydie-Anne is so convincing that I kept forgetting he was a man. Both actors have a beautifully done, very emotional scene near the end where both Chapman and Carver give fine performances.
As the story of young Simon and Vallier is revealed, we are reminded that two men in love was not acceptable in the early 20th century. How differently Simon and Vallier are affected by society’s traditions and perhaps more significantly, their own family’s influences, makes for an interesting contrast. Being young men in the 1920’s, we can understand how they would be easily controlled by their families. The effect on Simon although sad to witness, was not unexpected.
There was one aspect of the movie that I had trouble with, that being how they dealt with Valiier’s seemingly unstable mother in the end. Although she was supportive of Vallier – even in his love of Simon, I struggled to understand how the filmmakers resolved her storyline. I could’ve used more explanation or motivation for what occurs. But this brief scene is very near the end and overall did not spoil my enjoyment.
As I mentioned in the summary, there unfortunately is no HEA, but the story is told in such a beautiful and imaginative way that I would have hated to miss out on Simon and Valier’s love because of this. Cadieux and Gilmore’s acting was so convincing that I honestly have been thinking about Simon and Vallier for days, imagining that they are together. I highly recommend Lilies.