Thinking about the Italian film ‘Caesar Must Die’ led me back to this Canadian film from 1996, also set in a prison. Here the story within the story is a gay romance but it soon becomes clear why this story is being performed by this group of prisoners and to this audience.
The Bishop is summoned to the prison to hear confession from one of the inmates who is dying. The prisoner is known to the bishop since they were childhood friends. Instead of performing an ecclesiastical duty, the other prisoners lock him in the room with them and then proceed to stage a play which depicts events from the past. The story shows their shared past when they were coming to terms with their sexuality.
One, the boy who finds himself in prison as an adult, is involved in a romantic relationship with a friend. The other, he who grew up to be a bishop, is repressed and anxious to distance himself from his feelings. The inmates take the roles of all characters, including the female ones, and force the bishop to witness.
The film moves cleverly between prison and a wider world of the past as the scenes unfold before us. We are kept aware that this is a play we are watching, the actors have makeshift props and costumes, but the walls fall away to show us the scenes in the world beyond the prison and we move between these two throughout.
The path of love does not run smoothly in this story and there is a violent end, the reason why one of them is in prison. However, this is not a confession by the prisoner but an exposure of the truth and the bishop’s role in the crime means he is the most uncomfortable audience member of all.
The film by director John Greyson is wonderfully creative. The constraints of prison are shown but not maintained when the camera pans out, yet we do not lose sight of the fact that prisoners are the actors here.
‘Lillies’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?