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Canada, 1990 (MIFF 1992, Spotlight MacGillivray)

Director: William MacGillivray

With Understanding Bliss Bill MacGillivray returns to the emotional terrain and sheer filmmaking passion of Life Classes, bring­ing forth a new story about the power art has to transform experience and sometimes rescue us. Elizabeth is an English professor from Toronto, a rather earnest specialist in the writ­ings of Katherine Mansfield. She travels to St. Johns, Newfoundland, ostensibly to give a reading of Mansfield's Bliss, but mainly to see her lover, Peter, who teaches a radical course on modern modes of storytelling. Their romance had flourished at conferences in far-flung cities, but now, in the economically deprived yet culturally vigorous environment of St. Johns, things fall apart. Peter is rehears­ing his class for a contemporary reworking of a traditional Mummers play, so love with a mainlander takes a back seat and Katherine Mansfield seems as relevant as bone china in a bar room.

Shot over six days on video and trans­ferred to film, this is clearly a work of urgency for MacGillivray. He has used video not just for cost and convenience, but to change the way we see this world. The fluid long takes that result throw the film into the dichotomous realms of poetry and surveillance; the camera is relentless, its images both raw and shimmer­ing. By rooting this romance in old conflicts between central and Atlantic Canada, high and popular art, MacGillivray has made a more powerfully human film. As Peter realizes, we are more than psychology, we are also our privilege and our poverty, our history and our amnesia. "Tell your own stories" he encour­ages his students. "Get to know who you are ". important words for us all.

Festival of Festivals programme, Toronto

See also...


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... ... Life Classes stands as the definitive 'life-trans-formed-by-art movie, and MacGillivray's most fully realized film to date, a gently satirical yet deeply moving portrait of self-discovery ... More »


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