Raised in a family of Dutch Calvinists in Kingston, Ontario, she was not allowed to attend her first film until the age of 16, when a date took her to see The Exorcist. It was commonly referenced to underscore her ironic choice of career given the circumstances.
However, the anecdote has more personal relevance for me. I also had a very religious upbringing, and while I was allowed to attend movies, I was sent to strict parochial schools that told me being a lesbian was a very bad thing. That proved awkward because that is exactly what I am. Luckily, I managed to reject the idea that being gay is morally wrong by my late teens. Actually being open about who I was, however, was a more difficult process for me.
Like Rozema, the images I saw onscreen haunted me for days. But, unlike her, it was because I found them beautiful, erotic, and hopeful. She is engaged to Martin Henry Czerny , a theology professor who teaches his class that society is tired of constant change and longs for the immutable truth of religious certainty.
On the surface, their lives as budding career Christians seem ideal. They enjoy a shared language of tradition but are also hip enough to wink at the outdated dogmas of their religion. The college wants to promote Camille and Martin to co-chaplains on the condition they de-scandalize their relationship with a marriage license.
The offer is clearly all Martin has ever hoped for. Unable to deal with his sudden loss, she makes the odd choice of placing his body in her refrigerator and heads to the laundromat.
Propelled along by a mildly menacing synth beat, she encounters performers in various stages of undress, tattoos and gender fluidity. This lush environment is not only startlingly different from her own, but it features flamboyant freaks and literal fireballs.
But Petra is smitten now. She eventually lets Petra into her foyer and initiates a hesitant, tender kiss before dashing off again. Though Camille is clearly flustered by her encounters with Petra, they also bring suppressed parts of her personality and beliefs to the surface.
When Martin leaves for an out-of-town theology conference, Camille again finds herself on the circus grounds. Rozema appealed the decision but lost, so she chose to release the film without a rating.
Revisiting the uncut footage from the vantage point of , it is deeply sensual but not overly graphic. Visually, When Night Is Falling is stunning.
Its cinematography is lush and lyrical, and Rozema makes beautiful use of symbolism to tell her romantic tale. For instance, the film opens with dreamy underwater images of a nude Camille, her red hair fanning out against the blue-hued background, sensually entwined with another woman only to find herself trapped beneath a sheet of ice when she tries to surface.
When Night Is Falling received lukewarm reviews when it was released. With few exceptions, such as the groundbreaking Desert Hearts , the filmmaking gods were notoriously unkind to women who loved women heading into the s, often banishing those with Sapphic leanings to the grave or the nearest insane asylum. But When Night Is Falling was an early adopter of the idea that lesbians also deserve fulfilling lives. The film is also noteworthy for addressing the intersection of religion and homosexuality in a serious but gentle manner.
Religion is not made out to be a villain in the story, and each believer acts from a place of sincerity. Back in , as I sat in the darkness of that art-house theater, those were the very two things I longed to be.