Taken from, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing is an independent Canadian film. It has ranked ninth in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, by the Toronto International Film Festival, in 1993, with director Patricia Rozema being the first female director on that list.
Seeing a feminist approach and the artistic intentions, Canadian film critic, Thomas Waugh, describes Rozema as “the most prominent of English Canadian lesbian filmmakers.” Refusing to define her films as “distinctly feminist,” in an interview in 1991, Rozema insists that “gender is a category that does not interest her.” But in 1993, Rozema acknowledges the feminism in her films, saying, … “it’s in their foundation.”
The script explores two things which are very admirable of this film; the imagination of the viewer through fantasy which intertwines with the curiosity of Polly’s sexuality.
Through the art of staging, director Patricia Rozema has created a layered world co-existing through the eyes of Polly Vandersma; the simplicity of the art gallery and Polly’s bachelorette apartment compliments Polly’s fantasies and images through her photographs; each is strategically placed to enlighten and inform the viewer of what is going on around Polly and what is inside her head.
Through cinematography we not only see through Rozema’s camera lens, we see through Polly’s; not only to watch her take photographs but be her taking the photographs as we become aware of the surroundings in which Polly finds interesting and artistic.
Sheila McCarthy’s performance not only captivates the viewer but also compliments the film as a period piece (initial release Sept 11, 1987); her on screen chemistry with her co-star Paule Baillargeon (Gabrielle, museum curator) dares to tease the viewer into believing they may end up as lovers.
The special effects of this film are incredibly simple, delving into the minds of the viewer it lets them use their imaginations; Gabrielle’s painting, shown as white light, leaves the viewer puzzled at first glance but lets them decide for themselves to picture what they wish the painting to be.
The repetition and on and off screen of Leo Delibes’s “The Flower Duet” helps to set the tone and mood of the film; it guides the audience in and out of Polly’s fantasies and helps to penetrate the minds of the viewer.
This film does a very good job in capturing the period in which it was filmed; special effects such as Polly’s flying scene, the clothing/hairstyles, music and filmed with a 16-millimeter lens are clear indicators. I enjoyed watching Polly’s curiosity in things through her photographs and through her relationship with Gabrielle and watching Gabrielle and Mary’s intimate relationship because it gives a sense of innocence. Polly is 30 years of age but the way in which she is presented and presents herself shows her as more child-like. I liked the confessional aspect of the film, it was an effective use of storytelling and in the end, is tied together in the present after she is finished her confessional. The fantastical elements pull the viewer into wanting to know and explore what exactly Polly sees. The very ending made me want to know what world the three characters of Polly, Gabrielle and Mary were going to explore.
Overall, this film helps to unleash the artistic, curious open minded desires in the viewer.
*If the narrative of the film was not done through Polly’s confessional would it still have the same impact? Also, if Gabrielle’s (really Mary’s) painting were a painting instead of white light would that take away from the fantastical element of the film?