Love & Human Remains Review
Having become a filmmaker of international renown during the latter half of the eighties, it was perhaps inevitable that Denys Arcand would eventually make the move into English-language cinema. The result was 1993’s Love & Human Remains, an adaptation of Brad Fraser’s play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love which nonetheless bore many of the director’s hallmarks. As with his first international hit, The Decline of the American Empire, it’s a multi-hander amongst the reasonably well-off. As with his second, Jesus of Montreal, there’s a relatively youthful focus and as such an effort to gauge contemporary times. At the same time it’s also hard not to detect something of Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman in this milieu; Arcand is certainly encroaching on their territory albeit without the humour which makes (made?) their work so agreeable. Rather it shares their almost deterministically cool detachment, yet places it within the confines of serious drama.
Indeed, Love & Human Remains never gives the impression of being connected to its characters – it seems simply to have picked out the ones who intrigue to various degrees. We have the gay actor-turned-waiter, his bi-curious literature critic flatmate, his straight civil servant best friend, a 17-year old Porsche-driving bus boy who’s got a crush on him and a dominatrix with purportedly psychic powers. Plus there’s a serial killer on the prowl, perhaps the film’s only true concession to drama in a fundamental sense of the word. Yet Love & Human Remains isn’t a thriller or a mystery and most definitely not a horror flick. Rather the killings just become a part of the place, occupying the background like the channel-hopped TV stations which break up the scenes from time to time.
As such everything co-exists quite happily. It’s all rather cold (if not clinical or calculated) and even lines of dialogue such as “I hate your fucking guts” come wrapped in so many inverted commas that there’s ultimately very little drama or intrigue to be had. From Arcand’s point of view he simply approaches the material as best he can, the results begin a well-mounted and well-performed effort which easily transcends its theatrical origins (save for the awkward conclusion, that is, which conspires to get as many of the main characters as possible passing through the same apartment). Indeed, Arcand’s strong point has always been assembling strong, ensemble-led pieces, yet without ever connecting with people, his efforts can only go so far. The end results then are nonetheless interesting, if essentially unrewarding.
Love & Human Remains makes its UK debut on DVD just as Arrow are correcting their previous release of Jesus of Montreal. Whereas as that film was once “treated” to an NTSC-PAL 4:3 presentation complete with burnt-in subtitles and no extras, now it comes anamorphically enhanced, in its original ratio, taken from a fine print and blessed with a fine special feature in its 30-minute interview with Arcand. Sadly, anyone expecting Love & Human Remains to get a similar treatment will be sorely disappointed; rather it’s the original release which appears to be the model here. In this instance we find a 4:3 transfer (admittedly open-matte as opposed to pan-and-scan, although even under these circumstances it doesn’t look quite right) and an NTSC-PAL conversion which renders the image soft and unattractive. Moreover, extras are completely absent, meaning that the only highpoint which the disc can offer is the fact that the original Dolby Stereo soundtrack comes across quite well. Otherwise it’s a complete lost cause.