Having aced his most elaborate, lyrical and accessible production to date with the period drama “Lilies” (which Turbulent Arts releases Stateside in October), Canadian helmer John Greyson delivers a surprising about-face to the more experimental edge of earlier projects with “Uncut.” Vid-shot feature is too free-form in style (and too local in some content) for wide export. But it’s often giddily imaginative, and further advances Greyson as a key emerging international talent. Pic should be welcome at fests and in limited theatrical play.
The title punningly brings together pic’s two major themes: circumcision and copyright-controlling censorship. Three gay characters named Peter (natch) drive the narrative, set in 1979 Ottawa. One (Matthew Ferguson) is a student working on a book that scrutinizes the history of and arguments regarding male circumcision. He brings his handwritten manuscript to a rooftop typing agency; his transcriber (Michael Achtman) is obsessed with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to a degree that draws surveillance by an omnipresent policewoman (Maria Reidstra).
Yet another Peter (Damon D’Oliveira) seduces both the other two in succession. He betrays them by appropriating their work for purposes that turn out less sinister than we’re led to expect. Eventually the trio are slapped with prison sentences at a trial that itself appropriates Bizet’s “La Habanera” aria from “Carmen” to present a musicvid-style A-to-Z (“F is for Fraudulent,” etc.) of possible content-use legal infringements.
Things get more surreal during prison stay, when protags are housed together yet denied communication with one another. A series of sacrificial risks culminates in an action that proves both tragic and miraculous.
Though it goes on a bit too long, “Uncut’s” dense fantasy-cum-collage mostly delights in its playful, multi-planed wit. The two themes — circumcision as healthful, harmful or pointless cultural practice, and the myriad issues of privacy, ownership and free artistic expression that arise under overzealous copyright law enforcement — remain arbitrarily joined. Yet writer-director Greyson’s high-flying imagination provides conceptual glue.
Trudeau’s controversial, gossip-laden career is limned in archival clips; Michael Jackson is another celebrity integrated amusingly into the narrative. Interviews with four real-life artists who have appropriated others’ work or personae to fresh, reinterpretive ends furnish a further docu aspect.
Clearly shot on vid (despite subsequent 16mm transfer), “Uncut” nonetheless provides constant, handsome stimulus, with much droll humor lodged amid multilayered images and sound bites. It also functions as a serious, provocative political statement. Three lead perfs convey this earnest side to eventually poignant impact. Superb tech package redefines the highest standard for an “experimental” feature.