Kissed Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

I've always been fascinated by death... the feel of it... the smell of it... and the stillness.

"Kissed" is Vancouver-director Lynne Stopkewich's controversial first feature-film, an examination of a woman's rapturous exploration of necrophilia. Stopkewich first became fascinated with the subject matter after reading the short story "We So Seldom Look on Love" by Barbara Gowdy, and sought to adapt the story for the screen, using money saved from her 'day' job as a production designer (she has worked on such films as "The Michelle Apartments" and "The Grocer's Wife"). And what she ended up with was an interesting twist on the romance genre.

Why do you want to be an embalmer?
Because of the bodies.
What do you mean?
I make love to them.
Yeah... dead bodies.

Since her early childhood, Sandra Larson (the young Sandra Larson is played by newcomer Natasha Morley) has been captivated by death, conducting elaborate ritual funerals for dead animals that she comes across. She makes the link between her death-fetish and her emerging sexuality during a burial ceremony for a dead squirrel that coincides with her first menstruation. Upon reaching adulthood, Sandra (Molly Parker) gets a position as an embalmer in a funeral home, a job that allows her to achieve sexual, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment with some of the more attractive corpses in her care. From Sandra's point-of-view, her necrophilic exercises serve to not only gratify her own needs, but to also help the lonely dead 'cross-over' with one final warm act of intimacy. However, Sandra soon finds herself distracted by the amorous attentions of a fellow student, Matt (Peter Outerbridge), who instead of being repulsed, is fascinated by her and attempts to inculcate himself into her addictive compulsion-- at any cost.

Crossing over was glorious and overwhelming... and absolutely addictive.

"Kissed" is an interesting travelogue that sheds light on the inner workings of funeral homes, including a stomach-turning step-by-step dissection of the embalming process. The actual 'love-making' scenes are tastefully done, and Stopkewich positions the camera close to her subjects to convey the eroticism and warmth the Sandra shares with her 'partners'. The pinnacle of emotional release is artfully visualized using a fade to white, an homage to one of Stopkewich's favorite directors, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In stark contrast, the affinities that Sandra holds outside of the funeral home are dark and distant, including her relationship with Matt, which lacks any chemistry, and this is reflected in Stopkewich's use of more moody lighting and wide-angle shots.

It was like diving into a light... suddenly cold, and silence. Their bodies floated, solemn and shimmering. I watched their lives flow out-- who they were, what they've done. My hands burned like I was touching dry ice. And all I could see was the light... I looked right into it.

However, "Kissed" did fail in one respect-- helping the audience to understand the basis for Sandra's necrophilic tendencies. At the opening of the film, her obsession with death has already taken root and no exposition is provided as to why it has such a hold on her. Aside from morbid curiosity, what motivates her? What in the living world does Sandra find so discomforting that she must find comfort with the dead? More background on this seemingly-complex character would have created a more sympathetic narrative, perhaps even to the point of universalizing her struggle for the audience.

"Kissed" is daring cinema for those with an open mind. It is on the short side, being only eighty minutes in length, and the film does seem incomplete at the final fade-out, with questions about Sandra and her fixation being left unanswered. But nevertheless, it is a look at an otherwise unpalatable subject matter that walks the fine line between exploration and exploitation.

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