Synopsis: Successful in her teaching job at a conservative religious college, Camille looks forward to marrying her adoring, minister boyfriend and settling down to the conventions of family and career. But a chance encounter with a beautiful, irresistibly sensuous young female circus performer named Petra is about transform Camille’s predictable life into an electrifying erotic adventure.
Captivated by Petra’s impulsive sexuality and passionately free spirit, Camille is drawn into a world whose existence she never dared imagined – a world of hypnotic sensuality, rapturous self-discovery and exquisite erotic pleasure.
Now, walking an emotional high-wire between the familiar past and the forbidden future, Camille must choose between the love she can’t forget… and the desire she can’t resist.
eyelights: Pascal Bussiere. Rachael Crawford. the supporting cast. the film’s poetic nature. its discussions about religion and homosexuality. Leslie Barber’s luscious score. the circus.
eyesores: the limitations of its low budget.
“Camille, I’d love to see you in the moonlight with your head thrown back and your body on fire.”
‘When Night is Falling’ is a 1995 motion picture by Canadian director Patricia Rozema. It’s the story of a successful Christian college teacher who meets a vibrant circus performer and unexpectedly falls in love with her. Pulled in two directions by her heart and her beliefs, she finds herself struggling to maintain her perfect life all the while pursuing the one that she desperately wants.
Starring Pascale Bussière and Rachael Crawford as the two lovers, “When Night is Falling’ is one of the few perfect love stories: it’s poetic, beautiful to look at, engaging and well performed. And it’s sexy. It’s one of my all-time favourite films: I have the poster on my wall, the soundtrack permanently parked in my CD changer, and the DVD within reach. There isn’t a time I wasn’t taken with it.
Right from its first few shots, I was pulled in: two naked women, one of whom will soon be revealed as Pascale Bussière, are floating in dark waters, bubbles rising past them to the surface. They are swirling about, their long hair nearly dancing in slow motion, to the sound of Leslie Barber’s exquisite cello score. It’s a sensational sequence that immediately reveals the film’s aesthetic.
Soon we are introduced to Camille (Bussière) as our protagonist. She is evidently intelligent, composed and has an upper-middle class quality to her that is entirely Eastern Canadian. She and her boyfriend, who is also a teacher at the college, are well-regarded by the Reverend and are on track to become the college’s co-Chaplains – once they pass the board’s intensive interviews.
But Camille has seen another side of life, a more colourful and exciting one: through Petra, whom she meets at the laundrymat, she begins to realize that she wants more than the career-driven, staid existence she has thus far settled for. And once you get a taste of what you really desire, it’s hard to think in any other terms: she finds herself challenging her most deep-seeded beliefs.
Bussière is perfect in the part: she has a mixture of earthiness and intellect that is extremely appealing and is physically attractive in an unconventional way – petite, with a mouth that is more beautiful au naturel, and intriguing eyes. She is also one of Canada’s finest actresses; she has been nominated for a number of awards (including for this role) and has won for ‘Ma vie en cinémascope’.
Through Bussière, we fully understand that Camille is struggling with her thoughts and feelings. She is a sensual woman caught up in a world of repression, and her body and soul are crying out for passion. When she finally gives in to her deepest desires and needs, Bussière allows Camille to melt – all the while keeping her reigned in by her fear of losing everything that she knows.
Rachael Crawford is superb as Petra, a vulnerable young woman with pools for eyes who wraps herself up in a lightly militant, artistic carapace. She is like an obsessive little girl, patiently waiting outside Camille’s office all day for her to come out and play. She’s not threatening, she’s playful: she’ll climb trees, launch headless arrows through Camille’s window, casually keeping herself company.
But she hits on Camille hard. At first under the impression that Camille was single (when asked, she answered cryptically), Petra immediately started to make her move, switching their laundry to see her again, bringing her to her trailer, and going in for the kill. And even after she was rebuffed, she returned to apologize and try her luck again. She is nothing if not persistent. Crawford plays it beautifully.
Henry Czerny is equally excellent as Martin, Camille’s beau. He incarnates him as intelligent, stuffy, devoted and caring. He’s very conservative, but not so much that he isn’t taken with Camille’s charms. In fact, as she begins to unfold through her newfound longings, he will begin to appreciate what he calls her “new you”. And when he fears that he’s going to lose her, he tries to be dignified.
He has a couple of superb moments: at one point, Martin proposes to Camille and, already uncertain about her feelings for Petra, she asks him for more time to think. Czerny was able to give Martin the right look in his eyes: uncertainty, repressed pain. Brilliant. There’s also his reaction when he realizes what is going on: he remains self-contained to Petra, but then rages briefly outside, like a wounded animal.
Sadly, Camille will be hard to convince. The initial intrigue has blossomed into fantasy and longing. Some of the sexiest silver screen moments are captured between Camille and Petra, starting with the tentative kiss they share in the entrance to her apartment. Their brief massage, and Camille’s fantasy of Petra sneaking up behind her to kiss her neck as she is doing the dishes, also sets the mind ablaze.
And then there’s the central sex scene, which was clearly shot to be erotic, tastefully explicit: with Crawford’s smokey eyes and luscious lips, Bussière’s blushing skin, their slow, rhythmic motions and the careful positioning of mouths and fingers, it’s one for the books. It’s an extremely sensual sequence that is made even more so by the fact it’s shot on the most exquisite burgundy sheets.
And yet, a motion picture such as this one would be pointless if it was all eye candy, with no substance to speak of; there is plenty of erotica and porn out there as it is. ‘When Night is Falling’ works because it also tackles the subjects of religion and homosexuality and how the two collide in modern society. There are frequent dialogues between the Reverend, Camille and Martin to that effect.
Sown by her newfound feelings, Camille becomes uncertain that religion has all the answers. Questions arise, questions that she recklessly ponders out loud, putting her career and relationship at risk. But they are questions worth asking because there are oversights in what Christianity offers. Through Camille, Rozema evidently wanted to start a dialogue with her audience.
It certainly spoke to me at the time. I suspect that it tapped into a side of me that already questioned societal norms, and gave a voice to it. It essentially reaffirmed what I already inherently believed, but was able to show me that I wasn’t alone in this belief. For that reason alone, for me it’s become the standard bearer for any film that treats of sexual identity.
But it’s also a well-honed tale of seduction. Unlike ‘Room in Rome‘ which goes for broke early on, ‘When Night is Falling’ simmers, slowly building the tension and only paying off with a sex scene later on, allowing us to be seduced at the same time as Camille. It’s a rare instance where a motion picture manages to stimulate the mind first and foremost. The erotic build-up is delicious.
It’s also a gorgeous film. Even though she must have had a limited budget (it’s a Canadian film, after all), Rozema made the most of the locations: the wonderful old college with its classic, old wood architecture, Camille’s modern apartment, the artsyness of the circus are all resplendent here. She also shot everyone so breathtakingly beautifully, especially the two lovers (naturally).
There are also a few fantastic art pieces at the circus, including three women doing a number wearing dresses, army boots and waving hot irons around (dangerous, sexy and militant), and twin female trapeze artists, reflecting each other’s movements in a mid-air dance, depending on each other totally. It’s all stunning stuff, contrasting the circus’ make-do quality.
Rozema also chose to weave in a few metaphors along the way, eye-catching visuals like Camille trapped in her longing, under water, trying to break free, or her dog, Bob, representing her old life, dying and then temporarily being held in stasis in her refrigerator. It’s all done in a way that makes it palatable, not corny – the way that only the best art-house films can.
In fact, like ‘Exotica‘, ‘When Night is Falling’ is exactly my definition of great art-house cinema: it’s poetic and meaningful, it delivers a engaging story and compelling performances. The fact that it’s sexy is merely icing on the cake. It’s not by any means a perfect motion picture but, given its limited means, it’s really as good as it gets. ‘When Night is Falling’ will always be near and dear to my heart.
Date of viewing: July 6, 2014