Synopsis: An erotic drama about a woman facing her 30th birthday who looks back at her life growing-up with her grandmother, crazy mother and her over-indulgence with men, sex and alcohol.
eyelights: its strong performances. its exploration of familial, emotional and sexual dysfunction. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its facile ending.
“Thousands of hands caressed my body. Finally, someone was caring to me.”
You know, there was a time when I thought I was the only f-ed up human being on the planet. I would wallow in despair, wondering what the hell was wrong with me, why I was so broken.
But, as I’ve grown older, but not necessarily wiser, I’ve come to learn that most of us are damaged goods. The more people I meet, the more layers are peeled back, the more hurt we see below.
To varying degrees, we all have wounds that we haven’t quite healed from, wounds that have a direct impact on the way that we feel, act and interact. Some are lucky to have very few.
But some of us have many.
The further back these wounds go and are untended to, the deeper set they get, trapped under other layers. Sometimes, other wounds build on top and it becomes near impossible to get to.
These days, I feel comparatively normal. Yeah, I’m still f-ed up, though I’ve managed to mitigate some of the issues derived from my own past. However, I now realize that I’m hardly alone.
And, in some cases, I’m in better shape.
This leads me to ‘Borderline’, Lyne Charlebois’s award-winning 2008 debut feature film, which is based on Marie-Sissi Labrèche’s semi-autobiographical novels ‘Borderline’ and ‘La Brèche’.
The picture, which I’d known about for years, was barely on my radar; I knew nothing about it, and there are so many other movies jockeying for position at the top of my viewing list.
In fact, the only reason I even got to it is because (perhaps due to its poster/DVD cover art) I had the impression it might have some sexy bits in it. Naturally, it had to make the cut.
But I’m really glad that I got around to it: ‘Borderline’ is one of the best films that I’ve seen this year, offering strong performances as well as a few complex characters and dynamics.
It tells the story of Kiki, a twenty-something on the cusp of thirty-somethinghood. A neurotic mess, only her affair with her married thesis professor is keeping her relatively sane.
Though it’s a dysfunctional relationship, it’s helped her combat her compulsive sexual behaviour and kept her out of the psychiatrist’s chair – for the first time in her whole adult life.
But it’s not enough anymore, and Kiki has to face her past, and divest herself of her present, in order to look to the future – and, in so doing, she realizes that it shows promise.
It really does.
‘Borderline’, though ultimately a hopeful picture, is not an easy watch: for starters, there’s Kiki’s erratic behaviour, driven as it is by whatever whim takes her, which is maddening.
Secondly, she is surrounded by unhealthy relationships, including the afore-mentioned one with Tcheky, her lover, and culminating with her depressive grandmother and catatonic mother.
Kiki has been raised in environments of emotional and psychological torment.
And she can’t seem to escape it: she had to move back in with her grandmother, who lives squalor, preparing for her passing. Meanwhile, memories of her mother’s demented behaviour haunt her.
No wonder she’s f-ed up.
Her whole life has revolved around finding a substitute for love and security, the things we should get from family. Deprived of this, she’s found comfort in the arms of strangers.
If it all seems a bit heavy, thankfully, the picture transcends this limitation due to its strong performances – notably Isabelle Blais as a Kiki, and Charlebois’ oft-creative direction.
When we first meet Kiki, it’s in the aftermath of a colourful lovemaking session with Tcheky: she’s lying on a mattress, talking at the camera, with Charlebois taking us in closer and out.
Already, the pair managed to draw us in, both figuratively and literally. They connected with the audience, giving it a glimpse into Kiki’s heart and mind, intimately baring her whole self.
How could we not want to get to know her more?
Though the artsiness of Charlebois’ direction may make the picture seem pretentious, Blais grounds the proceedings with the poignancy of her turn. In her hands, Kiki couldn’t seem more real.
I felt for this poor lost soul. Even in her most pathetic moments, and there are a few, I couldn’t help but wish that she’d find her way, or that someone would gently take her hand and guide her.
She deserved better.
Seeing the Hell that Kiki endured as a child, with her mother and grandmother spending all their time crying together, and with her mother’s embarrasing public behaviour, tore me up.
No child should go through this; such experiences stain.
I was quite impressed with the younger versions of Kiki. I don’t know was in charge of casting, but they did a terrific job of finding actresses who actually could grow up to look like her.
That’s a pretty rare feat, so colour me impressed.
In fact, I was nearly wholly impressed with ‘Borderline’. Nearly. Though its ending is rather facile, all things considered, it can be forgiven due to the complexity of the Kiki’s entanglements.
The only way that this picture could have wrapped up more satisfactorily, might have been to jettison the last bit (i.e. bookending the lovemaking session), or extending the picture.
Given everything going on in Kiki’s life, Charlebois easily could have continued exploring her internal workings. But it probably would have been far too drawn out to be enjoyable.
As it is, ‘Borderline’ is slightly imperfect, but it’s probably as good as one can expect given the material and the limitations of low budget Québécois filmmaking. It’s excellent.
And borderline perfection is good enough for me.
Date of viewing: July 30, 2017