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since the first release of Canadian director John Greyson's brilliant film Lilies, writes OutUK's Stevie Gardiner. This exotic and moving gay revenge drama from the maker of queer classics Zero Patience and Uncut, has won countless Best Film awards at gay and mainstream festivals around the world including Montreal, San Francisco, L.A. and Johannesburg.
Lilies is not your average gay coming out feature. Set in a men's prison in Northern Quebec in 1952, a certain Bishop Bilodeau is lured into hearing the confession of a dying prisoner, only to be held captive by the jail's gay inmates, who force him to watch a play. Because it is taking place within a prison, the female roles are portrayed by the male prisoners.
This turns out to be the renactment of a lethal tragedy which took place in a Catholic's boys school 40 years before, the result of a gay love triangle involving an 18 year old Bilodeau and two of his classmates. The Bishop is forced to confront his rejected and forever after repressed gay desires and the death he caused.
Theatrical and stylised, this film owes much to Derek Jarman and that classic French novel of lost teenage love Le Grand Meaulnes. The male prisoners conjure up a forever lost land of teenage innocence and the raw hormone-racing sexual desire that the teenagers experience.
Even in the flashback scenes, all the women's roles are played by men, but you soon become accustomed to this, just as the Bishop is forced to confront the reality of his life. Lilies is a rollercoaster ride, with wonderful and senusual performances from the three young leads Matthew Ferguson, Jason Cadieux and Danny Gilmore. First released theatrically in 1996, the scandals that have hit the Catholic church around the world since then have only given added resonance to this haunting film.

The play-within-the-film is sometimes shot in realistic settings, while other scenes explicitly take place in the prison chapel. Realist scenes segue into prison scenes through visible set changes. After a realist autumn scene, leaves are shown being removed from the chapel floor. The final lovemaking scene between Doucet and Vallier is presented in realist style, but fades into a prison scene when the boat in which the couple are having sex becomes a bathtub in the chapel.

The play's dialogue and acting are deliberately heightened according to stage, rather than film conventions.

In a 2017 interview with CBC Arts, John Greyson described the film as a "strange Genet-inflected-via-Fellini fable". The film was nominated for 14 Genie Awards, it actually won four of them:

Best Motion Picture
Best Sound (Don Cohen, Keith Elliott, Scott Purdy, Scott Shepherd, Don White)
Best Costume Design (Linda Muir)
Best Art Direction (Sandra Kybartas)

The film is released in the UK on DVD cert 15 and is available online from Amazon.

 

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