The intelligent glow of Patricia Rozema

This article originally appeared in The Varsity, page 12, on Sep 17, 1990

by Ray Deonandan
Varsity Staff

“I believe that what’s really good In people Is really fragile, and is fucked up all the time. It’s broken when kids are little. The really truly beautiful element of the human personality is the most delicate fragile little thing.”

Patricia Rozema is a beautiful woman in every sense. The writer/director of the acclaimed I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing glows with an obvious creative intelligence and a faith in what she does. With a concern for expressing the truth in all things, she brings an uncomfortable realism to modem cinema, and it shows in her mannerisms.

Returning to the Festival of Festivals with the slick and contemplative White Room, Rozema is under the microscope. Can she reproduce the potency, commercial success and refreshing outlook of Mermaids? In White Room, she again attempts to show odd people experiencing life’s blows firsthand: truthful insights into disappointment and heartbreak.

The following is a brief excerpt from our conversation:

Varsity: Both Mermaids and White Room are about people on the social fringe searching for romance and poetry. Why is that so interesting?

Rozema: Because I feel that myself.

V: You’re on the social fringe?

R: Well, no. I’m white and middle class; I had a good education and I’ll never starve. So I guess I’m pretty much mainstream and whitebread. But still, personally and emotionally, I fell I’m really on the outside of things: I don’t get it, I don’t get it. I don’t get why people operate the way they do. I don’t understand it, and I don’t feel understood at all.

But I know how to work it in a way, you know? So that’s why I feel this schizophrenia. I think that’s another reason why that theme comes up again. It’s a surprise to me. I had written a totally different story, and then suddenly I realized, “Oh my God! I did the same thing in Mermaids!” It seems to be an obsessional thing for some reason. I don’t know why.

V: An interesting thing that I found was that this chizophrenia was expressed through a search for love and, in particular, a search for lave of art. In Mermaids it was painting and whatnot. In this movie it was love of writing.

That’s the most interesting obsession for me right now. The desire for sex I can understand, but it doesn’t completely captivate me. The desire for money bores me to tears. The desire for recognition is pretty low on the scale. But the desire to create, and the desire to put words on internal states, or somehow give form to internal intensity –I find that fascinating. And I feel just like Polly [Sheila McCarthy from Mermaids] and like Maurice [Godin, from White Room].

V: Another aspect of While Room that was quite obvious was the investigation of a celebrity’s right to privacy versus the public’s right to information. As a former journalist, I’m sure you’ve had some experience with that.

R: Oh yeah, I’m aware of it. I think that a celebrity should have a right to privacy …I’ve never suffered from that. I’ve never felt that I was, “A:”, a celebrity, you know? I guess I’m known by more people than I know, so that gives me a small element of “famousness”. But I’m not a celebrity.

I’m less interested in the issue of celebrity than I am in a personal psychological issue that I think everyone feels. I chose to put it in the world of celebrity because they feel that they have this problem more graphically. And that problem is: “how much do I expose before it’s too much?” and “how much do I keep within before I’m isolated?”

I believe that what’s good in people is really fragile, and is fucked up all the time. It’s broken when kids are little. The really truly beautiful element of a human personality is the most delicate fragile little thing, and it’s kept in a place that I call the White Room. So it’s a cautionary tale: be careful of one another.

V: Well the thing that really disturbed me was that you’re saying the world is a rotten place to be, and true love doesn’t conquer all.

R: Oh, it doesn’t. We die. It doesn’t conquer death.

V: You really believe..?

R: True love does not conquer death! You don’t believe that?

V: Not at all, but I’d like to.

R: I’m romantic enough in that movie. I say that true love sparked [Maurice Godin’s character’s] real breakthrough creatively, right? Still no words until one day when he kisses her, and it’s completely mutual, then he runs out to have that big explosion of writing. I believe that true love is the only thing -well, one of the two things- worth living for. The other is to make beautiful films. Or art. Or write beautiful books. Oh, man, I get sick of myself!

V: What do you mean?

R: I don’t know. I’m so full of shit. I made this movie because I didn’t see something else like it …Something that I’m sure I’ll always want to do is have a sense of euphoria with a real basic sadness underneath.

V: I find that uncomfortable.

R: Do you? Don’t you find it sad that we die in the end? We all know we rot. There is no “happily-ever-after”. The only happily-ever-afters we make ourselves in stories and fairy tales that we tell ourselves over and over and over again because we don’t believe them for very long, but we need to believe them for a second.

So I created another fair tale where I tell, in a more ironic way, that the only happy endings are the ones we write, the ones we make up. The only source for any kind of peace is from our imagination.