As Judge Brett Cullum always says, if you wake up naked with amnesia in Canada, remember to do it during the summer.
Gay, stark naked, and can't remember a thing. Based on a true story.
Imagine waking up without any clothes in a parking lot somewhere in Canada, and you don't remember anything other than you might be a gay American man named James Brighton. It was a true story, and the amnesia victim was taken in by a gay crisis group in Montreal. For months the man lived remembering nothing of his past while police and the media scrambled to find out who he truly was. He seemed to be suffering from a fugue form of amnesia brought on by a traumatic event. He was charming and learned French easily enough, and he quickly became the darling of the Montreal club scene. Everyone seemed to be drawn to a man who was a walking blank slate. Turned out he was Matthew Honeycutt from Tennessee, and wanted for some petty crimes. His family was hardcore Fundamentalist Christians, and they came to claim him after seeing his story on Hard Copy. He didn't remember them when the mother and sister arrived to take him home. Some people accused the man of making everything up to escape his life, while others struggled to figure out how this could happen.
These are the true events that form the basis of Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma, a small independent Canadian film recently released in the United States by TLA. It's been making the rounds of many gay film festivals over the last year, and the story is a wonderfully setup mystery that seeks to explore whether the man was a con or victim. It's told in chronological order, but is framed by a student criminologist working on the case a year after the events. Amnesia stars Dusan Dukic (The Terminal) as the lead, and the rest of the cast are French Canadian television and theater stars unknown to U.S. audiences. It was mostly shot on video, and has a small budget that it seems to use wisely. The cinematography is very well executed, and director Denis Langlois (The Escort) pulls a realistic drama out of fantastic events. The strength of the film lies in its poetic visions and narrative truthfulness that always keeps thing believable and balanced.
The DVD from TLA Releasing doesn't contain much in the way of whistles and bells. Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma is presented in a dark murky anamorphic widescreen with pale colors and low black levels. Part of this is simply the art direction of the film coupled with the constraints of a budget video shoot, but it will appear darker than what you'd expect from so recent a feature. The five-channel surround mix is concentrated in the front speakers, so it is just stereo with an effect thrown in now and then to round it out to a five-channel mix. Dialogue is clear, but that won't matter unless you speak both French and English. More than half the film is in French, and there are English subtitles to translate. The only extras are a brief photo gallery comprised of a half-dozen publicity shots and a spoiler ridden trailer shown in full screen.
The true story captured worldwide media attention, and this is actually the second time the "James Brighton" tale has made it to the big screens of Canada. Initially it was told in the campier Saved by the Belles which was a comedy, and this effort is more serious-minded and accurate to the events which inspired it. There are still liberties taken, and what Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma offers is closure to a story that was never truly completely unraveled in real life. It's too tidy in the end, but Langlois felt the audience needed an explanation that made sense. The film takes us on an engrossing journey that fills in real-life confusion with well-thought-out performances and strong pictorial scenes which help deepen the intrigue and emotions. For a small film it handles large issues well. The lead actor's performance is handsomely constructed, and he does a great job relating the confusion and frustration of his condition. The supporting cast is all fine, but they come and go all too quickly to establish anything concrete. You'll remember the enigmatic lead and quickly forget everyone else.
TLA Releasing always seems to find interesting films that fly under the radar, and with Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma they've found another gem of a movie most people haven't heard much about. If you're in the mood for an emotional mystery that explores identity, this one fits the bill. It's a small film that's certainly worth the time to check out on DVD. I wish they had provided some special features such as a look at the true story that inspired the movie, but no such luck. We're simply provided with the film, a handful of still photographs, and a trailer. It's a story Montreal has a hard time forgetting, and it makes for an intriguing fable. How can someone get so fractured he ends up losing himself in a foreign country without anything on his body? "James Brighton" was born in 1998 in a parking lot near the infamous Black and Blue circuit party in Montreal. I guess if you're a naked gay man the best place to wake up is in Canada.
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