Review: ‘Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma’

Inspired by real events, drama "Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma" ekes middling results from a fascinating storyline. Tale of a young gay man trying to reconstruct his identity after being left naked and beaten in a Montreal parking lot offers an intriguing mystery.

Inspired by real events, drama “Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma” ekes middling results from a fascinating storyline. Tale of a young gay man trying to reconstruct his identity after being left naked and beaten in a Montreal parking lot offers an intriguing mystery. But this latest feature from writer-helmer Denis Langlois (“L’Escorte”) lacks the directorial vision or arresting lead turn that would lift it above telepic-level adequacy. Bilingual French-English pic nonetheless should secure decent broadcast sales and DVD distribution in a number of territories.

Handsome, doleful-eyed, mid-20s protag (Dusan Dukic) is seen held at knifepoint by young louts in a speeding car. He is stripped, pummeled and left unconscious.

Disoriented, he awakes to find clothes scattered nearby, and istaken by police to a hospital where he spends more than a month in a psych ward under the care of a sympathetic doctor (Louise Laprade). Diagnosed with disassociative amnesia, he remembers nothing of his prior life. A few dim apparent recalls, including his name, James Brighton, lead authorities nowhere in identifying him.

“James” now decides he was — or at least now is — gay, and a local community org gets him taken in by linguistics professor Felix (Norman Helms). Felix is romantically attracted by the young man’s vulnerability. The ease with which “James” slips into being a darling of the Montreal gay club scene leads some to suspect he’s no amnesiac victim but an impostor desiring a fresh start.

Belying that negative view is James’ eagerness to be media-interviewed in hopes of being recognized by anyone who knows him. Yet worst suspicions seem confirmed when, after his story is broadcast on a U.S. tabloid-TV show, he is identified — as one Matthew Honeycutt from Tennessee, where he’s wanted for arrest on petty charges. Protag “goes home,” even though he says he still doesn’t recognize hometown or relatives, both knee-deep in Pentecostal Church culture. He does immediately remember the family dog — implying its unconditional love might lay in stark contrast to every other formative relationship.

Increasing flashback nightmares suggest psychiatric instability underlined by a disapproving religious community and tripped into breakdown by homophobic violence. But the unlikelihood that such violence brought no legal consequence robs the tentatively upbeat fade of credibility.

Memory-flashes aside, the chronologically ordered tale is framed by the present-tense inquiry of Montreal criminologist-in-training Sylvie (Karyne Lemieux), who’s decided to write her thesis paper about the “James Brighton” case. This device is OK, but pic needs a stronger cinematic style to convey the protag’s ambiguities. Instead, the film (looking a tad dark and soft in 35mm transfer) is serviceable, but pedestrian.

Puppyish Yugo-born Canadian lead Dukic’s naif performance inadvertently flags “James” as a possible liar before — and after — we should suspect him of being one. Support perfs are solid, with Steven Turpin (who played an amnesiac in 2003 Canuck indie “Saved by the Belles”) vivid in a key late support role.

Production values are pro, though the package could have used more imagination. Closing title updates the real-life amnesiac’s situation.

Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma

Canada

Production

A K-Films Amerique presentation of a Les Prods. Castor & Pollux production in association with Sodec, Telefilm Canada and Astral Television. Produced by Bertrand Lachance, Denis Langlois. Directed by Denis Langlois. Screenplay, Langlois, Bertrand Lachance.

Crew

Camera (color, DVC-Pro 50-to-35mm), Larry Lynn; editor, Langlois; music, Peter Xirogiannis; production designer, Genevieve Blais; costume designer, Corinne Montpetit; sound (Dolby Dig), Denis Saindon. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 22, 2006. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Dusan Dukic, Karyne Lemieux, Norman Helms, Louise Laprade, L. Kalo Gow, Bruce Ramsay, Eric Cabana, Steven Turpin. (English, French dialogue)
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