Lie with Me
Part of the enduring legacy of the motion picture is to push the accepted limits of conventional morality. From the skimpy outfits almost worn by Claudette Colbert in the 1934 ‘Cleopatra’ to the now infamous stick of butter scene in ‘Last Tango in Paris’, film has provided images and themes that the general public would balk at. In more recent years movies like Vincent Gallo’s extremely controversial ‘Brown Bunny’ have now done a lot to blur the thin line between artistic expression and pornography. Scenes with extremely explicit and detailed sexual acts are now becoming more and more prevalent in films marketed along side main stream flicks. The latest in this new trend is Clément Virgo’s ‘Lie with Me’. The film follows a 25 year old woman, Leila (Lauren Lee Smith) and how she chooses to express her emotional dysfunction through sex. The film opens with a scene that only a few short years ago would be absolutely shocking; Leila is seen lying on her couch, topless, one hand on the remote control of her television, the other down the front of her skirt. As she masturbates her face displays no emotional involvement what so ever. She appears not to be doing this for any form of gratification; it just passes the time and takes her thoughts away for a little while. After pulling on a top Leila heads off to a nightclub where she can loose herself in the pounding music. She comes across a rather shy young man (Michael Facciolo), pulls him out to the parking lot and proceeds to have sex with him. A few yards off a young couple are in a car, David (Eric Balfour) and his girl friend (Polly Shannon). Inspired by the moment and watching the other couple David and his girlfriend begin to also have sex. David and Leila cannot keep from staring at each other, involved more with the act of voyeurism than the sex they are having. Soon David and Leila meet up again and after a playful little game of ‘show and tell’ in a park they go back to David’s sparse apartment and have sex. Afterwards they introduce themselves and agree to go out on a date. Call me a little only fashion but when I was growing up the only place for such an encounter to play out like this was in the made up letters in a certain men’s magazine. Leila is distressed by some news her mother Marla (Kate Lynch) has just dropped, she is leaving Leila’s father Ben (Ron White), a man perpetually stoned. David’s life is also wrought with problems. He is trying to care for his sick father Joshua (Don Francks). These two young people turn away from helping themselves or even each other by engaging in sex. The sex is without real emotional connection it just takes the pain away for a brief time.
This film does have merit in that it deals with a large problem with many today, avoid the problem and just do or take something that seems to make you feel a little better for the moment. Leila does not consider the repercussions to her actions. Her sexually encounters are unprotected, which leads to another major concern not specifically addressed in this film. Sex is used just to pass the hours that otherwise would be spent actually addressing the problems Leila and David face. Sex for Leila has become so devoid of emotion that at one point she muses that it is not possible to have sex with someone you love. For her the act and the feeling are irreconcilable. There is no making love here only the distraction of friction. Even the sound in this film reinforces this premise. There are no sounds of passion only breathless moans more from biology than emotional connection.
A film such as this would not attract a truly mainstream actress. It requires one to take a huge risk. Former model Lauren Lee Smith takes on this role in a bold and well played fashion. Known best for the syndicated television show ‘Mutant-X’ and her current work in Showtime’s ‘The L Word’ she is willing to take a chance here. Smith does something very difficult for any actress, especially one of such young years. She has to play her role with an emotional detachment. This strains the audience who is unable to make any real connection with her but Smith manages to create concern for Leila. We see that she is on the road to self destruction and that alone will draw the audience into her performance. She uses her physical beauty to an icy veneer that hides what is going on within her. Eric Balfour has made a career out of playing the bad boy in films and television. He was the drug addicted boy friend on ‘Six Feet Under’ and here his drug of choice is sex. He has to take his character on more of an arc than Leila. He has emotions that want to come out but he seems to be unable to fully allow them to surface.
Director Clément Virgo has taken the story and screenplay by Tamara Berger and created a bleak and desolate film. The colors are washed out, visually symbolizing the inner most condition of Leila. The focus is softened, perhaps to show the deaden mood of Leila. The pacing of the film is slow, almost painfully so. On one level this works consider the point is that Leila is adrift in life. Unfortunately, it comes across as tedious in many places. Exposition is by means of a voice over by Leila. There is not much in the way of actual dialogue present in the flick. His use of full frontal nudity is a far cry from arousing, almost clinical in nature. The story is full of despair and only serves as a break in the sex scenes.
Think Films presents this film on DVD in the unrated version. The video is in anamorphic 1.85:1 and is free of defect. The color palette is muted as described above. The Dolby 5.1 audio is clear but most of the speakers are under utilized. The one real extra was somewhat interesting, a commentary track featuring Smith and Virgo. They reminisce about the creation of each scene and the various ideas that Smith suggested. Ina lot of the commentary Smith giggles as she and the director pick apart very explicit content. This film is targeted at the more liberally minded fan of art house films.