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Movie Review

Passion Overruns Logic in 'Lost and Delirious'

Vital performances buoy this adaptation of 'The Wives of Bath,' but a lack of credibility blunts its emotional power.

July 06, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The romantic spirit of Lea Pool's "Lost and Delirious" soars so high that it leaves all sense of reality behind. That's a shame because the film has such strong emotional resonance and such an array of vital, passionate performances. It is likely that the distinguished French Canadian filmmaker's first film in English will divide audiences between those whose hearts have been tugged into going along with the picture way past common sense and those who find it impossible to accept the film's credibility-defying developments. The film's title refers to its heroine but ends up describing the movie itself.

Working from Judith Thompson's adaptation of Susan Swan's novel "The Wives of Bath," Pool begins with promising indirectness. A shy, pretty teenager, Mary (Mischa Barton), nicknamed Mouse, is packed off to a prestigious girls' prep school by her father. Hurt by his dismissive, arbitrary treatment and intimidated by this imposing new world, Mary is surprised and soon delighted with the kindness and enthusiasm with which she is welcomed. The school's headmistress, Faye Vaughn (Jackie Burroughs), assigns Mary to a room with two beautiful girls, the sultry and headstrong Pauline (Piper Perabo) and the vivacious but more demure Victoria (Jessica Pare). Mary discovers that, like hers, their mothers are a source of pain and anguish: Mary's adored mother died three years earlier, and she hates her stepmother; Pauline strives to locate the mother who gave her up for adoption when she was born; Tory loves but also hates the mother, who is forever criticizing her and whom she is always trying to please.

Pool allows us to become acquainted with these three girls as individuals and as friends. It is only then that we--and Mary--discover that Pauline and Tory are more than friends. Mary is accepting and discreet; nothing is said, but in time Pauline and Tory feel comfortable in making love in the darkened dormitory room, trusting Mary to pretend she is fast asleep. Inevitably, the lovers are found out, with a terrified Tory immediately setting about establishing her heterosexual credentials, leaving the devastated Pauline to carry on in increasingly extravagant displays of her heartbreak.

Pauline's behavior is perfectly consistent with her temperament and vulnerability. Early on, the school's laissez faire philosophy is quite evident in the tolerance of Pauline's rude, outrageous outbursts in class, but now she carries on in such an increasing frenzy it becomes clear she is a danger to herself and to others. Headmistress Vaughn is concerned and understanding but essentially does nothing. Why doesn't this ritzy academy have a counselor? Why isn't Vaughn concerned with liability issues for the school if Pauline really and truly rages completely out of control? Is it that Vaughn is quite possibly a lesbian herself, as is strongly hinted, and that this has something to do with her resistance to taking action? In any event, "Lost and Delirious," a handsome film accompanied by a splendid selection of evocative songs, would have been a much more substantial and persuasive film were we shown logical responses to Pauline's behavior.

What is ultimately so disturbing about "Lost and Delirious" is the deep and widespread denial of homosexuality that it depicts. The student who points out that it's 2001 and declares her acceptance of Pauline and Tory regardless of whatever their relationship may be is the exception to the rule. The atmosphere of "Lost and Delirious" is the exact opposite of the authoritarian rigidity of the school in Leontine Sagan's classic "Madchen in Uniform" (1931), but it suggests, accurately or not, that attitudes in girls' schools toward homosexuality and the dire consequences of those attitudes basically have changed not a whit in 70 years.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, nudity, some sex, adult themes.

'Lost and Delirious'

Piper Perabo: Pauline Oster

Jessica Pare: Victoria Moller

Mischa Barton: Mary Bradford

Jackie Burroughs: Faye Vaughn

A Lions Gate Films presentation of a Seville Pictures presentation of a Cite-Amerique/Dummett Films production. Director Lea Pool. Producers Lorraine Richard, Louis-Philippe Rochon and Greg Dummett. Screenplay Judith Thompson; based on the novel "The Wives of Bath" by Susan Swan. Cinematographer Pierre Gill. Editor Gaetan Huot. Music Yves Chamberland. Costumes Aline Gilmore. Production designer Serge Bureau. Key set decorator Louise Pilon. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the University, Campus Drive, across from UC Irvine, (949) 854-8811.

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