18 March 2007 | Chris_Docker
An unusual film
You fall in love. You know, you get that really special feeling, an amazing connection . . . ? "This could be the one," you say, "I feel I could tell this person anything." Total love, total honesty, total forgiveness. Unconditional.
Not!! Don't see this film with your fiancé, see it on your own . . .
Sleeping Dogs Lie is not standard rom-com, a tidy melodrama, or a gross-out comedy. It second-guesses the audience with its unconventional examination of relationships and the ideas we maybe too easily take for granted. Like the emotional headbanger movie, Closer, you will perhaps want time to think of the answers to give your beloved before they ask questions based on this movie. The best time to analyse relationships is when you're not in one. The second best time, as our intelligent, pretty, 26yr old protagonist discovers, is when you're learning from your past mistakes.
Amy (Melinda Page Hamilton) is fairly sure that John is the guy for her. They reach the, "Tell me something you've never told anyone else" stage. Yes, we're talking sexual things. But not on screen - just verbal and emotional. Trouble is, Amy is worried John won't love her if she tells him of her dark teenage misdemeanour.
If you have done something bad, that didn't hurt anyone else, you didn't intend any harm, and no-one found out, is telling your other half part of that 'total honesty' equation? Sharing feels good (selfish, but OK). Telling them before they find out from someone else is probably good tactics (selfish really, from fear, or at best protecting trust). But love for the other person isn't technically part of it. Not that you believe that. Amy goes for trial and error. John gives her a 'skeleton' and she wimps out. She gives him a made-up confession that he finds a turn on. For now.
When someone else finds out it might be accidental - but it can come back to haunt. Honesty involves more than intellectual decision. What if your mind 'forgives' someone but your sexual urge doesn't? And if you get the moral high ground, will that tempt you to lie so as to keep it? The film's resolution works on a 'minimising hurt to others' idea, which is quite convincing. Am I going to tell you Amy's secret? No - cos if I do, it will give you the wrong idea of the film, and it's in the first reel anyway.
This is a low budget movie ($50,000) that was very well received at the Sundance and San Sebastian film festivals. Acting is excellent, but the characters are not always very rounded and it is too uneven, uncategorisable a film for general viewing. Audience distance is made even greater by use of techniques like contrasting music ("When You're Smiling"' plays as they drive through miserable silence). I was about to get bored with it, but was already wondering if it was taking an avant-garde approach rather than being just an amateurish mainstream film. It comes very close to the bone when characters 'demand' that the object of their 'love' is 'honest' with them. (Do you have the right to insist on information about that part of someone's life that doesn't concern you?) The dilemmas are reflected into other relationships. Amy has to attend a funeral (she has fallen out with her Father - "I need you to love me, Daddy"), and needs a cigarette. "I didn't want you to know I knew," her father says.
Sleeping Dogs Lie may seem slapdash or tedious if you don't buy into the cerebral and emotional challenge. If you do, you may find it, as I did, quite edifying as well - as heartbreakingly poignant.