One plus one equals one in this offbeat look at women's lives.



Back in 1977 in his film That Obscure Object of Desire, the celebrated director Luis Buñuel gave us a work in which the leading female character was played by two actresses interchangeably, a fact that could be put down to his fondness for fantastical and surreal elements in many of his films. Now with Mouthpiece the Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema, still best known for her debut feature I've Heard the Mermaids Singing made in 1987, offers something very similar. Like Buñuel she gives no specific explanation for this duality although in her case it is not hard to find a reason. The film's underlying idea builds on the fact that for so long women have been subjected to pressures that limit their role and often force them to choose between a domestic life on the one hand and a career on the other. It follows that, if women have to decide which route they will take and thus who they will become, each woman has the potential to develop either personality, the one linked to a degree of submission and the other to finding wider opportunities for independence.


Thus it is that at the heart of Mouthpiece we have Cassandra, a 30-year-old woman not as yet fully committed, this being the role played by both Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. The former appears as a more extrovert Cassandra than the other, but in this non-naturalistic tale the two players are usually seen on screen together and sometimes arguing with each other. Nevertheless, the other characters are oblivious to this and see her as a single individual.


This is a wholly original concept and it has led to Mouthpiece being acclaimed by some as Rozema's masterwork. However, the credit for the idea really belongs to Nostbakken and Sadava since they are reprising the shared role that they took on the stage in a play written by themselves. Rozema's contribution is to have seen how to turn this into a film, the script of which is credited to all three of them. If the basic idea is a debt due to the original play, so too is the idea of showing us Cassandra just after the death of her mother, Elaine (Maev Beaty). This brings out a comparison between Cassandra's situation as an unmarried woman who wants to be a writer and that of Elaine who had been a literary editor but had given that up for the sake of marriage and motherhood. The mother's choice had come to influence the way in which the adult Cassandra would think of her.


The novelty value in Mouthpiece is strong, the performances are suitably adjusted for the film medium and the adaptation makes good use of flashbacks. The latter range from brief glimpses of earlier years to a significant event that had occurred at Christmas just before Elaine's sudden death as the result of a stroke. But, if much here is striking, there is also a strong sense of misjudgment too. It is as though Rozema wants to throw everything into the piece and this even extends to a musical number in a supermarket. Stylisation may always be a key part of the film, but the style and extent of it lack consistency. The jumping back and forth in time ultimately makes the film seem longer than it is and, by holding back a plot revelation (a confrontation only belatedly shown), a pivotal detail - the family's disapproval of Cassandra wishing to deliver the eulogy at her mother's funeral - is made to seem unlikely. All told, Mouthpiece leaves one with the feeling that it could have gone deeper and said more and that it needed tighter control. Nevertheless, it is never less than intriguing, even if its potential seems to have been only half realised.




Cast: Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava, Maev Beaty, Paula Boudreau, Taylor Belle Puterman, Jess Salgueiro, Jake Epstein, Ari Cohen, Bruce Hunter, Sharon Lewis, Jennifer Podemski, Michael Podemski.


Dir Patricia Rozema, Pro Christina Piovesan, Patricia Rozema and Jennifer Shin, Screenplay Patricia Rozema, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, from the play by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, Ph Catherine Lutes, Pro Des Zazu Myers, Ed Lara Johnston, Music Amy Nostbakken, Costumes Marissa Schwartz and Mara Zigler.


First Generation Films/Crucial Things/Telefilm Canada-Bulldog Film Distribution.
91 mins. Canada. 2018. Rel: 12 March 2021. Available on VOD and on Virtual Theatrical release. Cert. 15.