Film Review: Lost And Delirious (2001, Canada) – La Rage au Coeurs
Tori: Paulie, listen to me ok, because I'm going to say this once and never, ever again. I will never love anyone the way that I love you. Never. You know that, and I know that, and I will die knowing that, ok? But it just can never... it just can never, ever, forever be. Do you understand?
This exceedingly well acted and often touching Canadian film follows the lives of three girls whose complex relationship spells trouble in the claustrophobic confines of a posh all-girls boarding school.
*Note that although various aspects of the story might be hinted at here, there are no second half spoilers or revelations that will ruin your enjoyment of this film*
Mary Bedford, or “Mouse” as she is called, (played by a young and slightly Sarah Michelle Gellar-esque Mischa Barton), is an intelligent, sensible and mature girl who is sent to a prestigious boarding school after the death of her mother and finds her into room with two seniors, who although both are influential and well liked by their peers are worlds apart in their outlooks on life.
Victoria “Tori” is the archetypal rebellious oldest daughter of a wealthy, closed-minded yet proud Anglo-Saxon Christian family.
And although she loves her father’s devotion to her, she despises her mother for always “mking comments about her teeth”. She feels she cannot escape the future set out for her by her family: A future where she is destined to be the wife of some successful and hideously wealthy professional. This also makes it abundantly clear to her that while smoking abundant quantities of weed is affordable, studying is merely optional. In one situation where her attitude leads to potential embarrassment, Pauli is forced to step in to protect her from making a fool of herself in front of her classmates.
Pauli also happens to suffer from an annoyingly prim and proper (except for her bad language) younger sister who is occasionally barging into her room to wake her up with her group of overenthusiastic friends and interrupting their peace and quiet.
Pauline or “Paulie” is the star of the film and is played by the deliciously adaptable and eminently talented Piper Perabo, (who also happens to have played a more recent lesbian role in the film “Imagine Me And You”).
Paulie is smart, driven to the point of obsession once enflamed and has a lot of repressed anger stemming from a desire to meet her real mother who had her adopted at birth. She has one obsession stronger than all others, however: Her roommate, Tori whom she practically idolises as some kind of angelic heroine from a Shakespearian sonnet.
Mouse, foisted upon the seniors’ secretive lifestyle soon gains their trust by being calm, open minded and mature beyond her years and by revealing aspects of her past to them that allows them to bond.
This trust, coupled with numerous room-filling marihuana sessions loosens the inhibitions of the two girls in front of her and the realisation that her roommates are sharing more than just the room soon dawns upon the unsuspecting first year.
Mouse’s maturity allows her to at first accept and later come to appreciate the precious and loving relationship her two newest friends have, as if substituting for the lack of love she feels towards her new mother.
However, as the numerous Shakespearian references to love and tragedy throughout the play constantly hint at, even the strongest of loves faces challenges and it is not all smooth sailing as the news of their relationship inevitably spreads through the tight-knit and conservative community of the school.
Mary is forced into a difficult situation as her roommate’s relationship comes increasingly strained. She becomes the natural intermediary as Tori fights to retain her social status and position among her peers and the standing within her own family and Paulie fights to regain the love of her “Princess”.
The beginning of Lost and Delerious starts off a little like The Shining, with the family car winding its way towards the grand estate of the boarding school, but its tone is soon lifted, with the sounds of cheerful and carefree girls enjoying their last freedom before returning to the real world.
Of course, “Mouse” doesn’t see it like that: The loneliness of the shadow of her mother’s death, cast three three years earlier and her father’s remarriage cause her to blame the new couple, her busy father in particular for her new and unwelcome situation.
This sets the tone for the main themes of: balance of freedom, love and family, which are repeatedly pushed home throughout the film.
Three girls, although from very different backgrounds feel a kinship in their “abandonment” by their parents and a feeling of being unloved and unwanted by their families and revel together in their newfound freedoms.
Yet the girls find out that their freedom is not as complete as they’d wished when obsessive love, and obsessive peer and family pressure begin to tear at their world, pulling them in unwanted directions.
The film’s crux is the point at which the secret of the two young lovers’ relationship breaks free and Mary finds her friends placing increasing demands on her stability and maturity, making her position among her classmates similarly difficult.
In the end, she herself is forced to turn to the “salt of the earth,” matter-of-fact advice of the old groundsman, whom she has built up a relationship with by helping on the school grounds, for guidance on how she can handle the important decisions she has to make and the impeding crisis which she feels is looming before them all.
The film’s attention to detail is striking, portraying the grandly austere and sometimes stuffy atmosphere of the school and varied lives of the young adults away from home and tasting freedom for the first and perhaps the last time in a much more fully than other films have tended to depict boarding schools.
Dorm room, dinner, playtime scenes and of course classroom scenes take up much of airtime, but other scenes are equally important in filling out the details, like for example the ritual daily mail check: Portrayed a symbol of the connection to the real world outside, with scenes of Mary and Paulie often returning sullenly empty-handed from their sojourns to the post boxes and almost ecstatic when a letter of any kind arrives.
The film’s relationships elegantly display how people deal with the pressure of being cast into a role against their wills and how one can be pulled downwards by the weight of love, obsession and loyalty.
A key point is Mary’s affection for and loyalty to her friends which renders her unable to let go as she is torn in conflicting directions by their obsessions. In fact, one might add loyalty to the list of themes covered by this film: Loyalty to friends and family and the costs and consequences of those decisions.
As the third boarding school film I’ve watched since Dead Poets’ Society in 1989, this one shares many aspects common to those earlier films and not to mention a tangential similarity to Harry Potter’s experiences after coming away from an unloving home.
Yet of course, this film has plenty that makes it unique, one being the illicit relationship between the two girls.
Still, unique or not, with its many Shakespearian references to love and life, and an increasingly heavy emphasis on medieval “heroes” and “heroines,” as shown by Pauli’s fascination with fencing and more unusually, falconry.
…this drama occasionally appears in danger of becoming heavy handed and a little too “thick with metaphor” but the drama is intense, the story and characters on the whole very believable and the acting of the three girls and their eccentric Headmistress, excellent, pulling this film back from art-flick territory and in to the mainstream.
If there is one minor criticism, it would be that the story is too focussed on the three girls with only minimal time time given to outsiders: i.e. the school appears to have just a headmistress, a teacher and a gardener with only the latter ever given a real relationship building chance. Even Mary and Tori’s parents are given only one peripheral scene apiece, despite their importance to the story.
For those expecting a mildly titillating upskirt, lesbo, sailor-costumed schoolgirl romp, let it be noted that you are in for a disappointment! It’s far more Dead Poet than St. Trinians.
Final Verdict: A Big Thumbs up for the acting and relationships of three main characters.