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Lost And Delirious

Lea Pool's "Lost and Delirious" represents a solid, if somewhat cloyingly romantic English-language bow for the Swiss-born, Quebec-based director. Overwrought story of adolescent love in the halls of a girls' boarding school is bolstered by a gutsy lead performance which should help the film snare some theatrical pickups.

Maintaining the intensity of her French-language features but moving into more conventionally glossy territory, Lea Pool’s “Lost and Delirious” represents a solid, if somewhat cloyingly romantic, over-earnest English-language bow for the Swiss-born, Quebec-based director. Overwrought story of growth, discovery, adolescent love and passion in the halls of an exclusive girls’ boarding school is bolstered by a gutsy lead performance from Piper Perabo, which, together with its erotic elements, should help the film snare some theatrical pickups. But wide crossover beyond the young lesbian demographic appears unlikely.

Adapted by Toronto screenwriter Judith Thompson from Canadian novelist Susan Swan’s “The Wives of Bath,” the project is Pool’s first experience working from a script she didn’t write. With most of the widely distributed lesbian features of recent years, including “Go Fish,” “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” and “But I’m a Cheerleader,” taking a light comic slant, Pool’s film marks a return to more sober Sapphic drama in the vein of the commercially successful but astonishingly bad “Claire of the Moon.”

Story kicks off with the arrival at school of shy, small-town girl Mary (Mischa Barton), whose mother died, leaving her with an uncaring father and stepmother. Her unworldly eyes are opened when she settles in with roommates Tory (Jessica Pare), the rebellious daughter of a wealthy family, and smart, savvy wild-child Paulie (Perabo), whose mother gave her up for adoption to a family to whom she feels no connection. This central triangle is a motif in all Pool’s previous films, most recent of which was 1999’s “Set Me Free.”

As they welcome Mary into the fold, she starts picking up signals that the girls do more than just sing in the choir together. First a kiss, a tender touch, then pretty soon Tory and Paulie are generating serious heat in the bed just a few feet away.

Mary takes it all in stride, caught between confusion, curiosity and gratitude over finally having found real friends. Tory’s sister is less understanding, however, when she bursts in one morning with a bunch of juniors to find sis and Paulie waking up naked in a post-sexual haze. Tory quickly curbs her apparent free-spiritedness and, fearing her parents’ reaction, pushes Paulie away, with Mary assuming the role of mediator. Tory distances herself even further when she starts dating and sleeping with Jake (Luke Kirby), a boy from a neighboring school.

From here on in, all the dramatic stops are pulled out as the script goes into serious literary overload. Paulie’s growing desperation to win back Tory prompts increasingly rash behavior and embarrassing declarations, often in the form of Shakespearean verses about love and loss. These are studied in class with a stereotypical middle-aged schoolmarm (Jackie Burroughs), whose sympathies for Paulie’s plight clearly run deep.

Even more baroque, however, are Paulie’s identification with a wounded wild bird, which she nurses back to health. As she transforms herself into an impassioned warrior-woman, challenging Jake to a fencing duel and crying lines like “Blood of the raptor! Blood of the night!,” the drama becomes harder to take seriously.

Where the film does succeed is in its depiction of the heady thrill of youthful love, then of obsession and the devastation of loss and longing — this despite the overuse of weepy tunes by just about every out lesbian singer-songwriter on the planet.

A considerable leap from her work as the “Coyote Ugly” boogie babe, Perabo strides through her role with imposing physical intensity, wearing Paulie’s romantic wounds like a bloody battle uniform and remaining a sympathetic figure despite the more theatrical elements and impossibly flowery dialogue. Also strong is Pare, quietly communicating the conflict of a girl who stifles her love due to external factors; and Barton, as the sensitive observer and loyal friend. Shot around Bishop’s U. in Lennoxville, Quebec, the handsome production makes much of its stately setting and sprawling grounds.

Lost And Delirious

Canada

  • Production: A Seville Pictures release of a Cite-Amerique/Greg Dummett Films production. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Paris.) Produced by Lorraine Richard, Greg Dummett, Louis-Philippe Rochon. Directed by Lea Pool. Screenplay, Judith Thompson, based on the novel "The Wives of Bath" by Susan Swan.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Pierre Gill; editor, Gaetan Huot; music, Yves Chamberland; production designer, Serge Bureau; costume designer, Aline Gilmore; sound (Dolby SR Digital), Yvon Benoit, Claude Beaugrand, Hans Peter Strobl; assistant director, Bruno Bazin; casting, Lucie Robitaille, Gail Carr, Lina Todd. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 21, 2001. Running time: 102 MIN.
  • With: Pauline Oster - Piper Perabo Victoria Moller - Jessica Pare Mary Bradford - Mischa Barton Fay Vaughn - Jackie Burroughs Joe Menzies - Graham Greene Eleanor Bannet - Mimi Kuzyk Jake - Luke Kirby