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I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing

Director – Patricia Rozema – 1987 – Canada – Cert. PG – 84m

****

A naive, amateur photographer comes unstuck as she gets to know a sophisticated art gallery owner – on MUBI from Wednesday, March 23rd

Polly (Sheila McCarthy) – an obsessive amateur photographer with her own darkroom – is blessed with a rich imagination and accompanying fantasy life in which she walks on water and climbs up the side of buildings. Being a scatterbrained social disaster area she is unable to hold down a job. She tells confessionally how the position of temporary secretary in the svelte Gabrielle’s art gallery didn’t work out – a tale relevant to us all, especially in these days of high unemployment. Sheila McCarthy is a perfect piece of casting with her sparklingly expressive eyes.

Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon) is everything Polly admires – beautiful, intelligent, successful and articulate. Polly falls in love with Gabrielle and dreams of the two of them dressed in fine clothes, talking about art. The reality is that Polly dresses in polyester clothing, is completely inarticulate, and has a poor employment record.

Gabrielle is secretly involved in an art world scam with her business partner; inevitably, Polly’s naive, private world comes up against the sophisticated cunning of Gabrielle’s. The art world proves to be a superficial target for the wit of director Rozema (Mouthpiece, 2021), which finds a deeper mark elsewhere, in human foibles. This portrayal of innocence outraged by cynical manipulation gives the film a universal appeal. In other words, a breath of fresh air: optimistic without whitewashing over the cracks in our humanity, and very funny to boot.

I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing is on MUBI from Wednesday, March 23rd.

Trailer:

Review originally published in Films & Filming, 1988.

Review amended to coincide with the film’s screening on MUBI 2022.

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