A Morality Play Down on the Farm

It’s not always easy when it comes to doing the right thing. Then again, there are plenty of instances when it should be patently obvious what we’re supposed to do. But, if that’s really the case, then why do so many of us make questionable choices when confronted with such circumstances? These are among the issues explored in the unusual new, genre-crossing Icelandic offering, “Lamb” (“Dýrið”) (web site, trailer).

For Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), an Icelandic farming couple living in the shadow of the North Atlantic island’s remote and imposing mountains, life is rather bleak. They spend their days methodically raising a flock of sheep and planting crops in the rough terrain, going about their work matter-of-factly in a practiced, no-nonsense manner. Beyond that, however, there seems to be little joy in their day-to-day existence, especially when it becomes apparent that the childless couple has experienced a devastating loss, one that they never speak of openly, despite the all-consuming role this tragedy has played in their lives.

With the onset of spring and the start of the lambing season, the mood on the farm lightens somewhat with the arrival of newborns to the herd. Their births bring occasional uncharacteristic smiles to the faces of Maria and Ingvar. They’re especially pleased that the numbers in their flock have increased impressively over previous years. Glimmers of optimism even appear to sprout. But, before long, something unexpected happens, drastically shaking up the couple’s normal routine. In fact, the magnitude of this event is so great that it drastically shakes up life on the farm.

(Note: Those who wish to be surprised about this bombshell should probably stop reading here, because describing its precise nature could conceivably be construed as a spoiler, a practice in which I ordinarily refuse to engage. However, because this development comes so early in the film and impacts its story line from this point onward, it’s fundamentally difficult to summarize this offering without revealing what transpires at this juncture. With that in mind, then, read on at your discretion; otherwise, switch over to one of my many other blogs or three published books.)

The everyday routine of Icelandic farm couple Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason, left) and Maria (Noomi Rapace, right) is shattered when an unexpected development occurs during the lambing season as depicted in director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s unconventional debut feature, “Lamb” (“Dýrið”), now playing in theaters. Photo by Mac Simonson, courtesy of A24.

As Maria and Ingvar deliver their latest newborn, a shocked look comes over their faces. Viewers aren’t let in on the secret, not only initially, but even for some time thereafter. Nevertheless, it’s quite apparent that there’s something decidedly different about this birth. What’s more, despite the mysterious, almost sinister treatment of this event, Maria and Ingvar seem unexpectedly receptive – almost elated – in response to what’s happened. They’re seen smiling much more often, and they express an unusual amount of care and compassion toward this particular newborn, far more than what they show any of the other new arrivals. They even assume the nurturing process, moving the little one into their home and raising it like a child. But there’s a reason for that: As is eventually revealed, the newborn is, in fact, a lamb-human hybrid, a female whom the couple has named Ada.

With the passage of time, Ada grows and develops, her head and neck being that of a lamb and the remainder of her body assuming the form of a human. Even though she can’t speak in the same manner as her human companions, it’s clear she’s intelligent and comes to understand language just as any child gradually would. She’s able to respond to instructions, walk upright and even express affection toward her adoptive parents. For all practical purposes, Maria and Ingvar treat Ada as their daughter, dressing her in human clothing and treating her like a member of the family. This gives them great joy, the kind that they obviously haven’t experienced for some time.

However, the sanctity of this unconventional household soon becomes threatened on several fronts. For starters, Ada’s birth mother – an evidently aggravated ewe upset that her offspring had been taken away from her – begins exhibiting menacing behavior toward the couple and their trusty herding dog. Maria is particularly troubled by this development and begins weighing her options for how to respond.

Then there’s the unexpected arrival of Ingvar’s brother, Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), a down-on-his-luck former musician with a seemingly dubious past. He has a history of periodically showing up when he needs something, like money or a place to stay, accommodations and resources that Maria and Ingvar are willing to trade in exchange for help on the farm. In essence, he truly is the black sheep of this family. But, when he discovers what’s going on with Ada, he’s appalled, looking upon the circumstances as wholly unnatural. When Pétur airs his concerns, Ingvar tells his brother that he’s welcome to stay as long as he wants provided he refrains from interfering in the family’s affairs. He begrudgingly agrees to these terms and eventually even comes to befriend his “niece.” But, despite outward appearances, it’s apparent that he’s also holding something back, as if he’s got a clandestine agenda that he’s looking to play out, and it’s unclear how the fulfillment of his plans might affect Maria, Ingvar and Ada.

When it comes to sheep, there’s more than meets the eye, as seen in director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s unconventional Icelandic thriller/folk tale/dark comedy, “Lamb” (“Dýrið”), now playing in theaters. Photo by Mac Simonson, courtesy of A24.

With these elements in place, the stage is set for the unfolding of this modern-day fable. How matters transpire will depend on a variety of factors, including some whose seeds have already been sown, some that arise anew, and all of which assume startling and unanticipated forms. Life down on the farm clearly departs from expectations, including those of both the characters and viewers.

No matter how often or how many different ways it may be said, one of life’s truisms maintains that “Actions have consequences.” We may not always like the implications of that. In fact, we may go out of our way to distance ourselves from the fallout of such circumstances, fruitlessly attempting to rationalize the ramifications into oblivion. But, try as we might, they’re there nevertheless, and we ultimately have to deal with them – or face the music of our actions.

Those actions and resulting consequences are the handiwork of our own making, manifestations that emerge into existence as a result of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, even though these ethereal, often-imperceptible building blocks of reality may seem patently insubstantial, that’s not to suggest that they have no impact, for they are inherently powerful forces for bringing our existence into being in all of its myriad components – for better or worse.

If we’re to lead peaceful, contented, fulfilling lives, we must never lose sight of this, for, if we do, we may suffer some serious blowback. Employing our thoughts, beliefs and intents to achieve desired goals with no consideration for the consequences can be rife with problems. The unintended side effects alone can be hard to handle once they materialize, potentially making our challenges even more difficult than when we embarked on our manifestation efforts. This is a perilous course, to be sure. And, for their part, Maria and Ingvar increasingly face the intricacies and complications of that prospect as events unfold.

It’s common knowledge – and just plain common sense – that we reap what we sow. We may be able to choose what we wish to create, but we must subsequently accept responsibility for those creations once we bring them into existence, no matter what form those materializations may take. We can’t disavow ourselves from what originated with us. In essence, we can’t unscramble the egg, no matter how hard we may try or how justified we might feel in pursuing such a course in the first place. You can call it karma or payback or any of a number of other terms, but, in the end, the implications are the same in each case.

Icelandic farm wife Maria (Noomi Rapace) has strong reservations about some unusual developments on her land, some of which hold the promise of joy and others of which portend a sinister future, as seen in the unconventional Icelandic thriller/folk tale/dark comedy, “Lamb” (“Dýrið”). Photo by Mac Simonson, courtesy of A24.

In many ways, it’s truly perplexing how someone can’t see this when they embark on what is obviously a dubious course. For example, how would Maria and Ingvar feel if a ewe took their child to claim it as her own? As the film so effectively shows in its reaction shots of the mother sheep, we’re not dealing with some dumb, emotionless farm animal here. Like any maternal figure, she has a vested stake in protecting the well-being of her offspring, and it’s not unreasonable to think she would just give up on that obligation, no matter how lovingly her adoptive human parents might treat the newborn.

From the moment Maria and Ingvar decide to start raising Ada as their own, they pursue a potentially reckless course. Regardless of what care and compassion they invest in the newborn’s upbringing, their decision to proceed as they do is more about what suits them than anything else. They may believe they’re doing the right thing. They may even feel justified in what they do in light of their own past circumstances. But, in the end, they still fail to ask themselves the core question at the heart of this scenario – are they acting properly and in everyone’s best interests, both for man and beast?

When an unexpected birth occurs during the springtime lambing season, Icelandic farm wife Maria (Noomi Rapace), one-half of a childless couple, willingly steps in to play a motherly role, as depicted in director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s unconventional debut feature, “Lamb” (“Dýrið”). Photo by Mac Simonson, courtesy of A24.

At its heart, “Lamb” is thus a morality play down on the farm, a cautionary tale about the intrinsically intertwined relationship between actions and consequences. It urges us all to think before we act, to avoid the temptation of knee-jerk reactions that may feel good but are questionable at best, to consider the implications of what can result when we pursue a perilously problematic course. This truly is a case where putting thought into our actions up front can save us considerable anguish by failing to do so.

This is not to suggest that the film is all deadly serious drama, however. This deliciously refreshing surprise features an unusual (and I do mean unusual) blend of mystery, horror, folk tale, and dark, offbeat comedy that will easily tickle those whose funny bones lean toward the strange and macabre. Imagine a contemporary story told in the style of a Grimms fairy tale, and you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s in store in this stylish, hilarious, creepy and darkly charming release. Writer-director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s debut feature definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but those who appreciate fresh, inventive material will love this immensely creative offering, told with subtle, tongue-in-cheek wit, gorgeous cinematography and a style that successfully relies more on showing than telling. “Lamb” is further proof that the Icelandic film industry is indeed one of the most innovative on the planet these days, serving up entertaining and thought-provoking offerings that movie communities in other countries could learn a lot from. The film is currently playing in theaters.

Many of us often find ourselves lamenting, “If only life were easier….” Yet there are also times when it seems that condition is met and we still don’t live up to what’s expected of us. In those cases, maybe we need to step back and survey the ethical landscape before us before making any rash decisions that we’ll regret later. Some might see such hesitancy as sheepish; others will see it as prudent – and wise.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Wrapping Up Reeling

With the 2021 edition of Reeling – Chicago’s International LGBTQ+ Film Festival – in the books, it’s time to take a look at how some of its featured offerings fared. Check out “Wrapping Up Reeling 39” for reviews of 17 narrative and documentary films from around the world, available by clicking here. For a full review of one of those entries, see “Recovering the Loss of Personal Power” below. Full reviews of other Reeling offerings will appear in the near future both here and on my web site.

A Quantum Leap in Understanding


Are we who we think we are? Most of us would probably say “Of course,” but is that statement truly accurate? Indeed, are we the limited, localized selves we’re most familiar with, or is there more to us than meets the eye (or, more precisely, the mind)? There could well be unknown portions of ourselves that are beyond our current comprehension. But what would it be like to find and explore those hidden aspects that could potentially open new worlds of opportunity for us? That’s what the unconventional new metaphysical fantasy “Lightships” is all about (web site, trailer).

When Eve (Lois Temel) awakens in an unfamiliar location, she’s perplexed about where she is. She tentatively begins exploring what appears to be some kind of hospital with no staff or other patients. The only distinguishing feature is the walls, which are covered with beautiful and colorful but deflating posters expressing sentiments designed to intentionally sap one’s motivation. After further exploration, she soon discovers she’s in an unattended mental health facility with a handful of others prone to various types of emotionally unrestrained outbursts. But, even with these revelations, she’s thoroughly confused about how she ended up there and what may have prompted her institutionalization.

Upon awakening in an unattended mental institution, Eve (Lois Temel, right) wonders how she got there and why, as seen in the new metaphysical fantasy, “Lightships.” Photo courtesy of Atomic Studio.

She attempts to converse with the other patients but makes little progress. There’s Lila (Tereza Lamenicka), who screams relentlessly, particularly when irked by the other patients; Francis (David Monard), whose behavior changes like the wind depending on his interactions with his peers; and Gordon (Usifu Jalloh), a manic, high-spirited sort who frequently breaks into uplifting motivational, spiritual and metaphysical screeds or launches into dancing with wild gyrations and gestures. The only one who seems the least bit grounded is Joy (Lucy Harrigan), who, just as she seems to be making sense, invariably drifts off into esoteric statements that are hard to fathom. Needless to say, Eve feels lost, realizing that, if she’s to determine how she befell this fate, she’ll have to do it on her own.

Not long thereafter, Eve begins getting glimpses of how to proceed, insights delivered through what seem like intuitional messages and psychic bleed-throughs. She receives impressions that she’s supposed to go in search of family members who simply vanished, inklings supplemented by what appear to be flashback images of her interacting with her husband, James (John Harrigan), and son, Orion (Ethan-James Harrigan). She’s also “told” that she can find them by searching the contents of a journal that she has apparently been keeping for some time. But, even with these insights, she’s still unsure of her circumstances, prompting her to wonder if she’s in the midst of a dream or, perhaps, even dead.

As time passes, Eve learns that her fellow patients are undergoing a specialized treatment program in which they’re blindfolded and enter into a special room where they’re given slips of paper with personalized instructions to carry out. It’s unclear where these instructions are coming from, given that the treatment room – like the rest of the facility – has no staff present. Lila, Francis, Gordon and Joy freely participate in the treatment and follow the instructions, but Eve is reluctant to proceed, afraid of what might happen and still unclear about how she ended up in the facility. However, when she sees how the others respond to the treatment, she becomes curious and decides to proceed. But whatever hopes she had are quickly dashed when she reads her personalized instructions, which inform her that she must destroy her journal if she wants to find her lost relatives.

Eve (Lois Temel, far right) is perplexed by her unexplained appearance in an unattended mental institution whose only other residents are fellow patients, including (from left) Joy (Lucy Harrigan), Lila (Tereza Lamenicka), Gordon (Usifu Jalloh) and Francis (David Monard), as seen in director John Harrigan’s “Lightships.” Photo courtesy of Atomic Studio.

Having developed a certain affinity for these writings, she can’t bring herself to do it. She feels there’s some sort of link between the journal and her missing family members, a connection that grows stronger with additional, longer, more intimate flashbacks. At the same time, though, she also realizes that she must somehow find the courage to follow the instructions, no matter how much she might resist.

In what follows, Eve also begins gaining greater clarity over her circumstances overall. She learns that she, like her peers, is going through a form of evolution, one that’s affecting all of humanity. In particular, she discovers the emergence of her (or, more precisely, our) inherent multidimensional self. Questions regarding whether she’s alive, dead or in a dream become increasingly irrelevant – and revelatory – at the same time. And, when she begins to sense the source of the information that’s helping her and her peers transform, she discovers the biggest revelation of all, one that’s characterized by insights that are more profound than she (or any of us, for that matter) might have been able to appreciate were it not for the onset of this evolutionary process.

If that all sounds somewhat cryptic, you’d be right. To say more would, in part, reveal too much. What’s more, though, the revelations aren’t always definitively fleshed out, something that comes with the territory of multidimensionality and the inherent flexibility that accompanies it, yielding impressions that might sometimes seem somewhat ambiguous. Nevertheless, growing into this new state of mind is groundbreaking, for it enables us to remember our forgotten true nature, to experience existence in a whole new light and to live out multiple lines of probability simultaneously, all depending on whatever we choose to explore. It enables us to break free from the self-imposed prisons we’ve created for ourselves – aptly symbolized here by the metaphorical image of the mental institution – and to move on to greater and more fulfilling expressions of what constitutes reality, a prospect that’s truly out of this world. Of course, for any of this to happen, Eve – like the rest of us – must be open to the possibility and willing to embrace what comes with it.

While Eve’s experience starts out along one particular path – and a somewhat “conventional” one at that – it soon takes a radical left turn and sets her on a completely different trajectory. The switch by itself could be seen as rather disconcerting, but the degree to which it shifts, as she comes to find out, is even more bewildering, especially as it veers into wholly unfamiliar territory. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, that’s what’s happening, and now she must figure out what to do about it.

In a flashback sequence in which Eve (Lois Temel, right) enjoys a special moment with her son, Orion (Ethan-James Harrigan, left), she begins to understand that the search for her missing family is at the top of her list of priorities, as seen in “Lightships.” Photo courtesy of Atomic Studio.

As Eve and her cohorts gradually come to discover, they’re undergoing an expansion of their consciousness, and they’re having some trouble settling into it. It’s as if their minds have been wedged into new bodies (as if they can even be called that, at least in the sense as they have traditionally understood the concept), and they’re now attempting to assimilate. But how do they do that?

Perhaps the most beneficial approach would be to look within themselves, to seek to understand what is taking place. And the most effective way they can do that is to examine their beliefs, for they dictate what manifests in their respective realities, even in an emerging multidimensional state.

Even though this newly emerging state of existence may be disorienting, Eve and company are gradually learning what the appearance of their multidimensional selves truly makes possible. In fact, it’s not so much a revelation as it is a remembrance of their true nature, one that they (like most of us) have somehow forgotten and are just now beginning to recall. This remembrance thus provides them (and us) with greater options and opportunities for a wider array of creative expression. While coming to appreciate such unrestricted power might seem intimidating, it also provides access to an expanded range and degree of manifestation, in myriad forms and even simultaneously.

Harnessing these abilities successfully clearly takes some practice, as Eve and her colleagues discover. It’s like learning any new skill, and they may approach the prospect tentatively. But, as they become more proficient at it, the closer they come to being able to remove their metaphysical training wheels. They may have some trepidation about this, but, as their intuition reveals to them, they’re clearly ready for it, regardless of the degree to which they realize this. They have the requisite belief framework in place to wield their consciousness and creative abilities in a full-fledged multidimensional context. And it’s time to now put that skill to use.

As they gradually come to understand their new abilities, they begin to appreciate the changes that have taken place within them to make this possible. Most notably this concerns the elimination of fears that have held them back, as well as the dissolution of limiting barriers between the multiple dimensions in which their multifaceted selves already unknowingly dwell. The diverse reactions that the principals experience as they undergo this change offer proof as to the progression of their respective transitions. They experience the unraveling of the old beliefs that no longer work for them and the implementation of new ones that do. In many ways, this comes across like a time of breakdown and chaos, and, to a great degree, that’s true. However, in order for a new paradigm to become established, the old one must pass away to make room for its successor, and that’s precisely what’s happening here.

Posters that sap the motivation out of the patients of a mysterious unattended mental institution serve as unexplained esoteric “reminders” to the facility’s residents as depicted in the new metaphysical fantasy, “Lightships.” Photo courtesy of Atomic Studio.

In many ways, the mental institution is a fitting metaphor to represent this process. It symbolizes the “breakdown” that’s occurring, yet it’s also a “safe” environment for it to take place. The fact that it’s unattended makes sense, too, in that it reflects the fact that this is a process we must each go through on our own, a product of our own creative transition and adjustment. And the motivation-draining posters are prime examples of outmoded beliefs that have been allowed to hang around – be it on the walls of the mental institution or in the realm of our consciousness – for far too long, outliving whatever usefulness they may have had at one time. These elements, taken together, point us in the direction of extricating ourselves from limiting institutions of our own design. That’s a fascinating and exciting prospect, provided we allow ourselves to enjoy it and everything it has to offer. (Something to look forward to, wouldn’t you say?)

While going through this process, one might feel alone, but that’s far from true, provided we know where to look. As the patients enter the unattended treatment room, for example, they might initially perceive it as a lonely void. Yet, when they emerge, they’re provided with individualized instructions about what they can do to help themselves. One might wonder where this advice comes from, given the absence of therapists, but there is the customized guidance nonetheless. These unexplained occurrences in all likelihood reflect the multiple sources of direction potentially available to us – intuitive messages, the wisdom of spirit guides or guardian angels (or whatever other term best suits you), extraterrestrial contact, and even the grace of our divine collaborator. They’re always accessible as long as we’re willing to listen and make use of the information afforded us. Indeed,  “The Universe leans in our direction,” and this is proof of that. What better loving assistance could we possibly ask for?

The bottom line in all this is that Eve and her colleagues, like much of humanity itself, could well be on the verge of a big step in our evolution. Will we take it? It depends on how willing we are to believe that we’re ready to do so. The transition might be a little bumpy. But, then, the best rollercoaster rides always are.

With a shift in consciousness unfolding, the residents of a mysterious unattended mental institution (from left, Lucy Harrigan, David Monard, Usifu Jalloh) find themselves embracing a new outlook on the nature of existence in director John Harrigan’s “Lightships.” Photo courtesy of Atomic Studio.

“Lightships” was handily one of the best offerings from this year’s Brooklyn SciFi Film Festival, where I had the pleasure of screening it. Director John Harrigan’s latest feature is one of the most captivating and unusual releases I have seen in quite some time. Based on the book Remembrance by Maryann Rada, the film explores a myriad of metaphysical concepts that shed new light on what constitutes reality, where we as a species may be headed, the nature of our true self, the essence of death and dreams, and even humanity’s interaction with extraterrestrials. It generally shows more than it tells, images that depict its material metaphorically, many of which are intrinsically poetic, even though some others tend to be excessively abstract and cryptic. There are also some sequences that could have used some judicious editing given their length and sometimes-frustrating character. On balance, however, this ambitious work is to be commended for its audacious experimentation and its willingness to take chances in addressing an array of esoteric notions in insightful, resonant and readily comprehensible ways, something more films and filmmakers should be courageous to try. “Lightships” may take some effort to find, as it has primarily been playing the film festival circuit. However, this inventive offering is worth it, as long as one is willing to approach it with an open mind.

The prospects of a brave new reality are full of wonder, promise and potential. And, as we come to understand our true multidimensional selves, we have that to look forward to. It may mean giving up some things with which we’ve grown comfortable and familiar, but consider what we stand to gain. Embracing a new way of being may have some challenges to overcome, but, given what awaits us, why would we ever turn our backs on the possibility?

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Journey Ahead 

It’s been said that life is a journey, a grand road trip of adventure, experience and, above all, personal evolution. And, cinematically speaking, there many films that can help to enlighten and inspire us on this front. Find out more by reading “Movies and the Journey Ahead” in the October issue of Modern Warrior magazine, now available. For more about this uplifting new online publication, click here.


Recovering the Loss of Personal Power

Recovering what we’ve lost can be a challenging pursuit. What’s more demanding, however, is searching for something we’ve lost that we don’t realize is missing. This can be especially problematic when it involves our sense of personal power, for its absence can leave us vulnerable to all manner of issues that we don’t know how to fix because we’re unaware of what’s lacking in order to do so. Such is the dilemma faced by a searching middle-aged artist in the compelling new French character study, “Down in Paris” (web site, trailer).

No matter how hard he tries to make things work, filmmaker Richard Barlow (Antony Hickling) just isn’t feeling it when it comes to his latest picture. After a difficult and frustrating day of filming, the English director, who lives and works in Paris, struggles to wrap up the day’s shooting schedule, but nothing seems to go right. He can’t quite pinpoint the trouble, either, but every alteration he attempts to make leaves him dissatisfied, even after 15 takes on shooting one scene. He paces around the set like a caged animal, irking or intimidating everyone around him. Richard’s assistant, Simon (Geoffrey Couët), tries to help, but the director is so wired that his aide’s suggestions fall on deaf ears. Indeed, Richard seems to be in the midst of a full-fledged anxiety attack. Finally, in light of the disastrous way things are going, Richard’s producer, Maurice (François Brunet), intervenes to avoid a complete meltdown on the set, sending the filmmaker home for the night to compose himself and get some rest for a fresh start the next day.

Richard leaves the studio and begins wandering the streets of Paris. Little does he know that he’s about to embark on a night-long odyssey that will change his life – and him. He first wanders into a bar for a quick drink where he meets Elizabeth (Nina Bakhshayesh), a fellow Brit who unsuccessfully makes a play for Richard, unaware that the filmmaker is gay. They nevertheless share a friendly conversation that helps to lift Richard’s spirits, putting him a seemingly better mood for the evening.

After a frustrating day on the movie set, filmmaker Richard Barlow (Antony Hickling) embarks on a night of wandering the streets of the City of Lights to clear his head as seen in the compelling new French character study, “Down in Paris.” Photo courtesy of Hickling & Allen Films.

Upon leaving the bar for a previously scheduled meeting, Richard has a chance encounter with his ex-boyfriend, Frédéric (Raphaël Bouvet), and his new partner, Tom (Thomas Laroppe). While the conversation starts out innocently enough, Richard and Frédéric quickly come to blows, rehashing old hurts, many of which Richard apparently tolerated more than he should have. Fortunately, a passing Samaritan steps in, breaking up the altercation and enabling Richard to continue on to his appointment.

Like his conversation with Elizabeth, Richard’s previously scheduled engagement helps to calm him down. That meeting is with his friend Samantha (Dominique Frot), a spiritual advisor and Tarot card reader. During their session together, Samantha discovers that Richard has been shouldering the weight of a number of recent losses, most notably his breakup with Frédéric and the agonizing death of his father, who succumbed to cancer not long ago. Samantha notes that Richard’s pain is palpable and that her previous prediction about Frédéric being a source of trouble had indeed come true. However, she adds that the cards say good things lie ahead for her friend as long as he’s willing to be open to them, primarily by letting go of the past and allowing his true self to shine through. Richard acknowledges that Samantha’s observations are on target and that, while some of what she said may have been difficult to hear, he knows these are issues he must address. The upshot of this is that it places him in a better frame of mind, one in which he appears to be more willing to be honest with himself and to follow the advice Samantha gave him.

After leaving his meeting with Samantha, Richard is in a better mood but not ready to head home. He decides to continue wandering the streets of Paris, a journey during which he experiences a number of encounters that bring him face to face with himself and provide him with a greater sense of personal clarity. He first stops in a church, where he has a spiritual awakening of sorts after a bewildering conversation with a mysterious stranger (Claudius Pan), one in which he’s forced into addressing his fears, doubts and insecurities. He then comes to the rescue of an old man (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) who’s harassed by a pair of punks in a late night eatery, an incident that leads to a profound but brutally honest chat. He subsequently pays a visit to an old friend, Mathias (Manuel Blanc), someone whom he sincerely believes he once egregiously let down; engages in an explicitly erotic encounter with an intergenerational couple in a gay bar; and experiences a surreal, apparitional episode along the banks of the Seine with a young boy who seems eerily familiar. He even has another chance meeting with Elizabeth that proves to be uncannily prophetic.

Above all else, though, the night’s adventures turn out to be remarkably revelatory. And, as morning approaches, Richard starts his day with a sense of renewal about himself, his fortunes and even his movie. But will circumstances play out in his favor, providing him with what he seeks and what Samantha foresaw? That’s what he’s about to find out.

Of course, the key question here is, “Why shouldn’t things play out in Richard’s favor?” And, for that matter, why shouldn’t they play out in anyone’s favor? Many of us routinely ask ourselves why our lives aren’t panning out as hoped for. We accept disappointments and discouragement, often settling for less than what we want, sometimes to a great degree. But why are we so willing to do that and not take a closer look at what’s preventing the emergence of the results we desire?

During a series of unexpected encounters, anguished filmmaker Richard Barlow (Antony Hickling, left) engages in a profound but upsetting conversation with a stranger (Claudius Pan, right) when he stops in a church to collect his thoughts in “Down in Paris.” Photo courtesy of Hickling & Allen Films.

In many respects, that’s what Richard is up against. Despite his obvious flair for creativity, as evidenced by his film work, he somehow fails at being creative enough to resolve the shortcomings in his personal life. And, as becomes apparent through this story, that appears to be attributable to his inability and/or unwillingness to take a good, hard look at discovering the nature of his true self, his inner being, that from which everything in his existence originates.

Introspection is crucial to understanding oneself, particularly where our beliefs are concerned. And this is important because our thoughts, beliefs and intents are the building blocks of our reality, the foundation from which it springs. Richard’s failure to so engage with himself is keeping him from fully realizing his dreams and fulfilling his potential. To a great degree, this has to do with one set of beliefs that’s especially critical – those associated with the management of his personal power, for how well we wield it determines how effectively our beliefs and existence align. Based on Richard’s session with Samantha and his other conversations throughout the night, as well as his contentious interaction with Frédéric, it’s fairly obvious he has a history of either failing to fully tap into his power or, even worse, giving it away to others. That being the case, it’s no wonder he is (and has been) unhappy with certain aspects of his life.

While this issue of disempowerment has primarily involved Richard’s personal dealings, his frustration on the movie set is an indication it may be starting to creep into his artistic life as well. Sadly, he now appears to be experiencing difficulties in an area where they previously hadn’t existed, adding to his burden and exacerbating his overall sense of exasperation.

One might wonder what’s behind such a change, but perhaps it’s his inner self’s way of trying to get his attention, prompting him to examine the source of his frustration by nudging him to look at the beliefs driving it, especially now that it’s beginning to show up where it had previously been absent. The issue’s systemic growth within him is like a metaphysical virus, attacking one part of his being as a means of drawing attention to another that has been afflicted but ignored for far too long. This may not be the easiest way to approach this problem, but, as an internal cry for help, it’s forcing Richard to get to the root of the issue in order to resolve it.

It would be in Richard’s best interests to pay attention, too, for the more he resists, the more arduous the process becomes. That’s apparent through the appearance of a number of the challenging situations that arise during his night of wandering around Paris. His confrontation with Frédéric, the personal attack from the stranger in the church and the somewhat tactless honesty of the old man in the restaurant, for instance, are all examples of incidents that Richard’s inner self has drawn into his existence to facilitate addressing his empowerment issues. The question for Richard is, “Will he recognize them for what they are and what they’re intended to accomplish?” How well he does or doesn’t succeed at this will help to determine how effective he will be at resolving his empowerment issues and instituting the requisite changes he needs to make to alter his reality to his liking.

By making changes in his beliefs and enabling his altered true self to embrace them, Richard has an opportunity for a brighter future. The seeds of that are apparent in his Tarot reading. Samantha shows him that he need not accept reality as it has historically unfolded; a better, brighter, more fulfilling future is indeed in the cards – literally – as long as he’s willing to do the work to bring it about. For that to happen, though, he must also sweep away what no longer works, and his night on the town in Paris is designed to help point the way toward such an outcome, even if that scenario doesn’t materialize in the way he expected at the time. For Richard’s sake, we can only hope he reads between the lines successfully enough to see what’s really transpiring.

While roaming the streets of Paris by night, filmmaker Richard Barlow (Antony Hickling) pays a visit to a gay bar, where he engages in an explicit erotic encounter in the new French character study, “Down in Paris.” Photo courtesy of Hickling & Allen Films.

Should Richard pass the test, he should be able to reclaim his power, and, by doing so, he has an opportunity to reshape his life in all areas, not just those in which he previously developed proficiency. That would enable him to become the individual he truly wants to be. Change is truly possible, and Richard now has the chance to at last discover that for himself.

This is undoubtedly an important message for everyone, but I find it particularly poignant for members of the LGBTQ+ community, for several reasons. To begin with, this constituency has long suffered from disempowerment issues, and, even though measures aimed at rectifying this problem have become more prevalent in recent years, many community members are still relatively new at coping with such matters and could definitely stand to benefit from inspiring examples like this.

But, perhaps more importantly, this film is significant by encouraging LGBTQ+ community members to get better acquainted with their true selves overall. While honestly addressing orientation questions is certainly a key concern for community members, this consideration is only a part of what makes such individuals who they are; there is much more to their inner selves than sexuality, and those aspects deserve just as much attention, for they determine who those individuals become just as much as their orientation does. “Down in Paris” does a superb job of addressing this, and I applaud the film for doing so. It shows that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer is part of what someone might be, but it also makes clear that it is only a part – that there’s much, much more to an individual’s nature. In this regard, I salute this picture for taking LGBTQ+ cinema in a new direction, one that embraces a wider view of what constitutes films in this genre, particularly what they can and should seek to incorporate. I sincerely hope this is the start of a promising new trend.

Finding ourselves is something we all must do, including members of the LGBTQ+ community. Such is the case in this excellent boundary-pushing character study from writer-actor-director Antony Hickling. Through the protagonist’s numerous encounters over the course of one night in Paris, viewers witness a somewhat lost gay man come into his own as a fully self-actualized individual, one who seeks to understand and take control of his destiny, an inspiring example for anyone who has ever felt in need of direction to get his or her life on track toward a path of satisfaction and fulfillment. While the pacing lags a bit in a few sequences, the film does a generally fine job of keeping the narrative moving and engaging without lapsing into dry, protracted talky scenes that weigh down the work. This impressive offering does much to expand the scope and perspective of what constitutes gay cinema, but one need not be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to appreciate what it has to impart. Sensitive viewers should be aware, however, that the picture contains some sexually explicit content.

Finding “Down in Paris” may take some effort, at least initially. While it has been generally released in its native France, it has been (and for the near future will be) primarily playing at film festivals, such as at the recently concluded Reeling Chicago International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, where I screened it. However, should it go into widespread distribution elsewhere, either in theaters and/or online, I heartily recommend it.

Personal power is something we may not fully appreciate until it’s gone. That’s especially true when we fail to recognize its importance and the role it plays in shaping the existence we experience. However, that’s not to suggest all is lost as long as we’re willing to make the effort to retrieve it and put it to use before it’s too late. And, fortunately, that can happen in unexpected yet remarkably revelatory ways, sometimes by simply partaking in undertakings as improbable as spending a night on the streets of Paris. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised what can happen in the City of Lights, especially when this magical venue takes on the role of “City of Enlightenment.” Richard can be thankful for this opportunity, provided he avails himself of it and understands what it’s trying to teach him. After all, once he considers what could be awaiting him, the loss of a little sleep and the challenges of a few consciousness-stretching, button-pushing exercises should seem like quite a bargain by comparison.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.