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Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma
cast: Dusan Dukic, Julian Casey, Karyne Lemieux, and Norman Helms

director: Denis Langlois

90 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 16:9
TLA DVD Region 2 retail
[released 7 April]

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
One cold October morning, a young man (Dusan Dukic) wakes up naked in a Montreal parking lot with no idea of who he is or how he got there. There's a wedding ring on his finger and in the pocket of his clothes, piled nearby, is a slip of paper with a phone number on it. Doctors diagnose him as suffering from fugue syndrome - amnesia caused by emotional trauma - and with their help, he eventually remembers that his name is James Brighton and he is gay. But the Canadian police can find no trace of a James Brighton anywhere.

While TV programmes broadcast James' plight, and ask the public for help in identifying him, university linguistics professor Félix Blain (Norman Helms), a prominent member of the Gay SOS helpline, takes him in and introduces him to the local gay scene. Félix is taking quite a risk offering the mysterious James a home; after all, he might not be who he says he is. And indeed that turns out to be the case, as, at last, several members of the public come forward.

A year later, young policewoman Sylvie (Karyne Lemieux), whose PhD thesis is on the subject of identity crimes and impostors, pulls James' files from the police archives and starts to piece together what happened. This crisply shot French Canadian film was inspired by real people and events, but is nonetheless a work of fiction. At least I hope so. Because the police investigation into James' background is perfunctory, to say the least, and neither they or James can be bothered to investigate the violent events that supposedly triggered his fugue - events, incidentally, at odds with the doctors' pronouncement that they found no signs of violence.

Set in the starkly contrasting cityscapes and cultures of Montreal and Tennessee, this story of a man rediscovering his identity is potentially interesting, but I'm not sure that director Denis Langlois' decision to tell it from police archivist Sylvie's viewpoint was the right one. It distances us from James, who I was already having trouble warming to, though we are told that "everyone's drawn to him" and he certainly has no trouble getting boyfriends. It also makes the flashbacks to James' past speculative, throwing doubt on Sylvie's reconstruction of events, and in the process depriving the audience of a definitive, satisfying ending.

Dukic's (The Terminal) central performance as James is patchy, not helped by his character's unsympathetic behaviour. While James would be justified in feeling frustration, confusion, and loneliness at his predicament, too often it comes across as petulance, self-absorption, and a lack of concern for others. The director should also have provided Dukic with a voice coach, as his vowels are distractingly Canadian when his character hails from Tennessee, and his French accent is almost comically bad. Fortunately, Helms and Lemieux turn in much more convincing, sympathetic, and assured performances, though Sylvie's lesbian fling felt slightly superfluous - a sop for any lesbians in the audience who might be feeling left out.

DVD extras: subtitles, trailers, and photo gallery.

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