loving annabelle


Directed: Katherine Brooks

Written: Katherine Brooks (with Olivia Bohnhoff and Karen Klopfenstein)

Every year on the queer festival curcuit one film inevitably creates more buzz than any other. For the 2006/07 season that film was Loving Annabelle.

It's easy to see where the buzz has come from, and where the limited production budget went. This film is gorgeous. Cinematographer Cynthia Pusheck (whose bio is truly impressive) has shot a film that I can only describe as lush. There's not a single sharp edge in this dreamy, ethereal project. Unfortunately, that's also part of the problem.

Loving Annabelle is OK, but not great. Despite its provocative subject matter, there's something oddly sedate about the film. I expected more passion, much more angst (considering the life-altering decisions that these characters are making), and more painful conundrums.

It goes like this. Annabelle (Erin Kelly), is the rebellious daughter of a powerful female Senator. She's been kicked out of her second high school and has been dumped by her mother in a small, exclusive Catholic boarding school. She might look the part, with her constant smirk, hunched up shoulders, streaked hair and relentless smoking, but Annabelle is not your average rebellious student.

Annabelle meets Simone (Diane Gaidry), a beautiful and troubled English teacher. Simone has had a tragic affair in her past, with a girl she grew up with. She's lived a stunted existence, dating a man she does not love and teaching at her old childhood school to stay close to the memories of the woman she lost. She responds to Annabelle instinctively, but her adult maturity warns her that doing anything about her feelings would be inexcusably wrong.

Annabelle is sexually aggressive, and clued in to Simone's tragedy as no-one has ever been before. Regardless of how mature she seems though, Annabelle still reacts like an impetuous teenager, which is the only thing standing between Simone and disaster. However, Annabelle knows Simone can't resist her forever.

Erin Kelly's performance is the only thing holding this all together. The film relies on Annabelle's believeability, and even though sometimes I think her dialogue left much to be desired, she's got an excellent physical presence onscreen. There's a raw sexuality about her that I can see would be difficult to resist, and the sex scene, once we get to it, is visceral and sexy.

If only they hadn't felt the need to shave off all the rough edges, this could have been brilliant. A few more risks should have been taken, with the script, the cinematography and the direction. There needs to be less lingering and more movement. More should have been made of the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boarding school setting, to really make us feel how trapped Simone feels, how she's unable to breathe until Annabelle comes along to throw open a few windows. This film is so full of "could have been" that it's downright frustrating.

Back in 1998, Brooks and Karen Klopfenstein released an underrated film called Outtakes which was a sweet, funny look at two women trying to make a film who against all odds end up making both a film and a relationship work. I loved it because it was so real. Loving Annabelle is another competent contribution to her growing body of work, but despite being prettier, isn't nearly as emotionally honest as that previous film.

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com