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‘I Heard the Mermaids Sing’: Patricia Rozema’s LGBTQ Classic

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The 1987 indie classic I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing returns to cinemas in a 4K restoration. Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema, the film won the Prix de Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors Fortnight and was the premiere selection at the Toronto Festival of Festivals. Rozema will be present for a Q&A at the screening on March 18 at 7:15 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

The funny and charming story follows nerdy amateur photographer Polly (Sheila McCarthy) who lands a temp job at a hip Toronto art gallery and is drawn into the lives of her fashionable head curator, Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon) and Gabrielle’s lover, Mary (Ann-Marie McDonald). Reviewing the film for The Times 35 years ago, Kevin Thomas wrote: “Fast, funny and intimate, it’s a surprisingly confident first feature film that uses exquisite humor and compassion to expose the pitfalls in a relationship between two radically different women. In addition, the film also sends up the dangers and self-importance of the art world.

“[‘Mermaids’] it’s more about people than art or criticism, of course, and how our impressions of each other can trip us up. McCarthy and Baillargeon create two sympathetic people whom we understand as easily in our godlike position as viewers, but who misunderstand each other just as easily as we misunderstand the people dear to our hearts in our own lives.”

The film became an art-house hit and LGBTQ favorite, and placed Rozema at the forefront of a generation of Canadian women directors on the rise in the 1980s. In an interview ahead of the film’s initial release, the director told The Times, “If film is considered an art form, it’s okay for women to be involved. When it comes to business alone, men outweigh the crowd. I’ve never had any problems as a woman – staying in control on set or whatever – with a mostly male crew. My way is to never doubt that I have it. Being aggressive or over the top is a sign of weakness, of doubt.”

The film’s success surprised Rozema. “I was a bit blown away by the reception,” she admitted, “because I was consciously trying not to think about who was going to like the film. …keep the budget low so you don’t have that albatross hanging around your neck. Make the film the way Polly makes her photos – just because you want to see something beautiful. Don’t try to anticipate the taste of a world full of strangers.”

“I heard the mermaids sing”

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes

Play: Begins March 18 at Alamo Drafthouse, Downtown Los Angeles

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-03-17/ive-heard-the-mermaids-singing-patricia-rozema ‘I Heard the Mermaids Sing’: Patricia Rozema’s LGBTQ Classic

Caroline Bleakley

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