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Amnesia: James Brighton [Import]
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Inspired by true events, this shocking story unfurls as a young American wakes up stark naked in a parking lot one frigid morning in Montreal. The only thing he remembers is that his name is James Brighton (Dusan Dukic) and he is gay. After the police efforts produce no results, James desperately turns to a local gay hotline and a doctorial student for help. As the pieces of his actual identity unfold, a bizarre twist lands James in jail and everyone questioning who this person really is! Filmmaker Denis Langlois (Danny in the Sky, The Escort) keeps us on the edge of our seats and guessing throughout this amazing tale.
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The first thing that the young man eventually remembers is what he believes his name to be: James Brighton. He remembers other isolated things, such as some music he likes, expresses a familiarity with television broadcasting equipment, and easily picked up French as a second language when sent to a class. But he still claims not to remember where he is from, or how he got to that parking lot in Montreal. He is diagnosed with a rare type of amnesia, likely associated with a severe mental or emotional shock of some kind, but all therapies fail in trying to find out more. He turns for help to a staffer from the local gay helpline, as well as a doctoral student who has taken an interest in his case. He appears on a tabloid TV show broadcast throughout the United States, hoping that will provide leads as to who he really might be. When some calls come in, they suggest that James isn't who he claims to be at all, and perhaps faked his amnesia in order to force a new start away from legal problems in the US. What is likely his real life comes back to him gradually, in flashbacks, but we are never quite sure if that is the truth either.
An interesting approach to an amnesia story, with kind of a Lifetime / Movie of the Week vibe, though the acting is a bit better than that genre. The writer puts an interesting hook on the old "I am so much more than just a gay man"-tirade by introducing us to someone who doesn't know anything about himself *except* that he is a gay man, and raising related issues of how important identity is to one's wellbeing.
The film is paced well except for the last half hour or so, when characters seem to appear without any real introduction, and disappear just as quickly, making it difficult to follow what is happening. I was also confused trying to follow the dialogue which alternates in English and French (for which subtitles are provided), sometimes in the same sentence. Despite its faults, this is a worthy effort, and I give it four stars out of five. DVD has only chapter stops, photo gallery and a trailer; a director commentary and more background info on the real case (which is provided on the film's website) would have been nice. Not rated, but would only be a PG-13 for gay content.
The grit of the film lies not so much in the storyline (that becomes fragmented at regular intervals due to the moments of memory return the main character experiences), but instead in the manner in which our amnesiac struggles to find his identity, a family, and a sense of belonging. Through the help of social workers, detectives, a gay hotline service, and the media the 'true' identity is slowly unveiled, but not without some serious setbacks - often presented to us as flashback bits and pieces as to who our amnesiac may be. The transitions between the Montreal scenes and the subsequent scenes in Tennessee (the apparent home of the amnesiac now known as Matthew Honeycutt) are choppy with sidebars of Pentecostal church services adding to the confused mix. Yet in the end the pleasure of the film is up to the viewer's interpretation of all the 'facts' that have been discovered: we are allowed to participate in the enigma. In Québecois, French, and English with variable subtitles. Grady Harp, December 07
Matthew Honeycutt [a/k/a James Brighton] - Dusan Dukic
Sylvie - Karyne Lemieux
Dr. Montoya - Ginette Boivin
Felix Blain - Norman Helms
James Brighton [a/k/a "the real James Brighton"] - Steven Turpin
Based on the true story of Matthew Honeycutt of Tennessee, this marvelous, unpretentious Canadian production will reduce you to tears in a couple of places. It is 1998, very chilly October in Montreal. A young gay man awakens in a parking area completely nude, disoriented, cold and injured. He finds his clothes, dresses and soon the police have him admitted to the nearest hospital. He can recall his name is James Brighton and that he is gay. His amnesia is otherwise complete.
Thanks to Felix Blain, of an organization that is called "SOS Gay" (based on the Canadian gay hotline GAY ECOUTE), 'James' is helped, finds a place to stay (with Felix but there is no funny business) and thanks to Dr. Montoya he is able to recover physically and learn French. I was stunned at the number of French speakers in this bilingual place, but then I do not know it at all. It was like he was in France or Belgium. This film, though choppy and confusing, is a must-see. It is the only honest record we have of a true case that has had me stumped for almost 20 years.
This film, of course, has taken some liberties and the poetic license is quite fascinating to be honest about it. The real-life case left a lot of unanswered mysteries that this film fills in for us in a clever way. The mysterious criminology student Sylvie is writing up the case for her doctoral thesis. We never know how she gets to know 'James' or what her thesis actually discusses other than loss of memory due to traumatic emotional stress. I found it too contrived, yet it works. I think the thing I found most off-putting was the performance of Dusan Dukic as 'James/Matthew'. Though he does well enough, he is also at the level of a college theatrical student with much enthusiasm but too little talent. However, the film has some startling cinematic tricks I loved: a varying shooting style, everything from classic old 'flashback' scenes to modern news reports made directly to the viewer rather than to a news crew.
I demerited one star for the lack of cohesion in one or two spots, which adds unnecessary confusion to this excellent film--and for the horrifically tiny subtitles. Unless you are super-fluent in French, you'll need those subtitles as there is no dubbing option, nor should there be. But it still costs the film in the end, because the main audience is obviously meant to be American.
You must see this, if you haven't already. The true story of Matt Honeycutt of Tennessee who thought he was James Brighton of New Jersey is heartbreaking and this, which is about him, comes closest to telling it in full. That is the strange thing: some of it can only be told through weird, brief flashbacks/nightmares James suffers. Others are conjectures by Sylvie the doctorate student. Her reconstruction of what might have occurred will stun you to pieces. The Canadians are like the French, with a way to bring heavy, important philosophical queries to the table without seeming to do any heavy lifting.
In this case, it is not only the question of gay anguish and homophobia, but the broader issue of who we are, why we are, and what we must become. All of this is so ugly and sad, the Canadians seem to be saying, when you literally do not know who you are--or who you're supposed to be. The film suggests Matthew may have come from a closeted background, run into trouble more times than he could handle--then here he is with amnesia, having to pretend all over again in yet another disgusting way. I tell you, as odd as this story is, you'll understand what he is enduring.
DVD WARNING: This film seems devilishly hard to get in Region 1 NTSC, despite being a Canadian film. PAL Region 2 editions abound like bunnies at Easter, but even my seller could not be certain if my copy was going to be NTSC or PAL. The risk paid off, but it was a dumb thing to do. Please check with your seller and make them check for you to be sure you're getting the NTSC version.