“Tiresia” plays like “The Collector” meets — well, not much, actually. In his third feature, after “Organic” (1998) and “The Pornographer” (2001), Bertrand Bonello goes off the aesthetic deep end in a tale about an enigmatic Frenchman who abducts and sequesters a lovely Brazilian transsexual, since he is convinced that beauty made by man’s tinkering with God’s raw materials is superior to God’s own work. The pic is a contempo transposition of the Greek myth in which a mortal experiences life as male then female and is blinded by a goddess but compensated with the gift of second sight. The storyline sounds OK when confined to ancient mythology, but “Tiresia” flies too close to the sun of symbolism, burns its feathers and crashes to Planet Auteur with a thud. More icky than Icarus and with a pace more meditative than a room full of monks, this cinematic curiosity would probably have fared better in a Cannes fest sidebar than in competition.
Terranova (Laurent Lucas) drives through the woods that bracket Paris where transsexual prostitutes — many of them impossibly gorgeous — ply their murky trade to motorists. Tiresia (debuting looker Clara Choveaux) accompanies Terranova to his walled-in house in the suburbs where her host locks her in a closet then ties her to the bed and calmly announces that she’ll be living with him from now on.
Tiresia insists that she’s a whore whose raison d’etre is to have sex but Terranova only wants to admire his captive and sleep chastely beside her, with her womanly breasts and unused penis. (Tiresia’s body is shown full-frontal, with taste.)
Without her hormone injections, Tiresia’s masculine characteristics reassert themselves. Reluctant to release Tiresia — who can identify him and whose cronies will seek revenge — Terranova viciously pokes her eyes out and dumps her in a field.
A mute 17-year-old girl with an angelic face (Celia Catalifo) lugs Tiresia back to her place where she nurses him/her back to health. Tiresia (now played by Thiago Teles) reverts to his male morphology and starts uttering involuntary oracle-like predictions, all of which prove to be accurate.
As people come from far and wide to hear what the young, blind, Brazilian-accented prophet has to say, parish priest Father Francois (also played by Lucas) finds Tiresia’s gifts clash with the Church.
The film is well cast and Bonello has rendered the story as well as anyone could. Although Bonello unquestionably has an artistic vision, the narrative registers as excruciatingly random rather than profound. Helmer pays special attention to lighting and nature interludes but never achieves a tone that’s truly mystical or numinous. Venture remains minimalist and aloof despite off-kilter emphasis on destiny at odds with applied religious faith.
Source music, while majestic, sounds here as if it’s being turned on and off like a faucet at the Hotel Godard.