ten years ago, at the vancouver film festival, Bruce Sweeney took a workshop with Mike Leigh. He's been living it down ever since.Those two days helped shape Sweeney's approach to filmmaking, but not nearly as much as they shaped the way people talk about his films.
But Sweeney isn't a Canadian Mike Leigh, or at least not just that. Last Wedding shows a director growing away from the clear Leigh influence on his last film, Dirty, toward a style that folds Leigh's lessons in with touches of Woody Allen and Bertrand Blier.
It's the story of three Vancouver couples. Shane is a bitter architect bristling at the sudden success of his girlfriend, Sarah (Molly Parker). Peter (Tom Scholte) is a teacher bored in his marriage and tempted by a horny student poet. Noah (Benjamin Ratner) and Zipporah (Frida Betrani) announce they're getting married. Their union signals the unravelling of all three relationships.
Last Wedding peels the skin off what might have been a romantic comedy, revealing instead the bones and organs of desire. Scholte, who's been Sweeney's alter-ego in all three of his features, pursues his young student way past the point of charm. There's a bare-ass sex scene in an alleyway that's hilarious but not exactly romantic.
But then, sex in Sweeney's films serves other functions. It's never simply a plot crescendo or a blaring set-piece. His characters actually look like they want -- even need -- the sex they're having. They're allowed animal lust, which means they don't always look so hot fucking. But that fits perfectly with the moral landscape of Sweeney's protagonists, who are so often furtive, unsure men. In sheer drive and focus, Last Wedding doesn't quite measure up to Dirty. But it's a more technically accomplished film, and it'll likely contribute to Sweeney's impact on his fellow Canadian filmmakers.
There's been a shift over the years from the documentary realism of the 60s and 70s through the almost conceptual narratives of the 80s to films that are, at last, rooted in strong, persuasive performance.
Acting, or a more emotional style of acting, matters more than it ever did. Sweeney is part of that vanguard. As such, he's crucial.
LAST WEDDING written and directed by Bruce Sweeney, produced by Stephen Hegyes, with Benjamin Ratner, Frida Betrani, Tom Scholte, Nancy Sivak, Vincent Gale, Molly Parker and Babz Chula. 100 minutes. A ThinkFilm release. Opens Friday (October 19). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 118. Rating: NNN