Despite the West Coast's reputation for clean, soy-enhanced lifestyles, just about every conceivable manner of psychosexual dysfunction can be found in the movies of the region's filmmakers who emerged in the nineties.
But even amid all the deviant behaviour on display during Cinematheque Ontario's series on the Vancouver New Wave, Lynne Stopkewich's films stand apart for their daring.
Her two features are provocative portraits of young women -- both played with an air of eerie serenity by Molly Parker -- whose sex and death instincts become so closely intertwined, the characters can no longer judge much difference between ecstasy and annihilation.
If Oscar Wilde was right about how each man kills the thing he loves, then Stopkewich is fascinated by the particular brands of havoc that women wreak on themselves and others.
Tonight, the director will be at Cinematheque Ontario to introduce screenings of Kissed (1996) and Suspicious River (2000).
Though born and raised in Montreal, Stopkewich has been a mainstay of Vancouver's movie scene since enrolling in the University of British Columbia's film-studies program in 1987. One of a tightly knit posse of budding filmmakers, she gained experience working on her friends' sets and on the city's many American film and TV productions.
Both of Stopkewich's features have some of the geographically non-specific quality that marks so much B.C.-shot Hollywood fare.
Largely denuded of references to time and place, her movies take place in small-town or suburban settings that lie just on the edge of forests where her heroines perform arcane rituals or face terrible trials.
In Kissed, based on a short story by Barbara Gowdy, Parker plays Sandra Larson, a woman whose childhood fixation on dead things leads to a secret predilection for intimate encounters with the freshly expired.
As Stopkewich draws us deeper into Sandra's perspective, the film floats by in a dream-like, oddly bucolic manner. Though initially repulsed, we come to see Sandra's acts as she does: loving, ethereal and potentially transcendent.
The same feeling of interiority marks Suspicious River, although that film (adapted from a novel by Laura Kasischke) forgoes Kissed's gentle tone for something far more harrowing.
Here, Parker is Leila Murray, a bored young wife who sells her body to the guests at the motel where she works. Whereas the main man in Sandra Larson's life was a curious and submissive former medical student, Leila becomes ensnared by a brutal, manipulative sadist who is all too eager to help her destroy herself.
Considering the second feature's harrowing portrayal of sexual violence and self-negation, it's easy to understand why Suspicious River met a less enthusiastic reception than Kissed.
Yet they're highly complementary works, both of them exploring unsettling aspects of female sexuality in a manner that is inquisitive, non-judgmental yet increasingly charged.
Unfortunately, Suspicious River remains Stopkewich's latest feature -- her activities this decade include making a documentary on the Lilith Fair, directing episodes of television's The L-Word and co-producing another screen adaptation of a Gowdy work, Falling Angels. Canadian cinema needs more of her provocations.
Kissed (along with Lynne Stopkewich's two shorts, The $3.00 Wash & Set and The Flipped Wig) screens tonight at 6:30, followed by Suspicious River at 8:45. $10.10 per movie. Cinematheque Ontario, AGO's Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas St. W., 416-978-3456.Report Typo/Error
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