She Must be Seeing Things (First Run Features, NR)

She-Must-be-Seeing-Things 75You never get emotionally invested in anything you see on the screen.





She-Must-be-Seeing-Things 500

Agatha (Sheila Dabney) is a socially conscious lawyer. Jo (Lois Weaver) is an indie director working on a film about Catalina de Erauso, a 17th century nun who was permitted to dress as a man. Agatha and Jo are lovers and, as both are successful professionals and work in a time and place (an unidentified city in the mid-1980s) where they seem to encounter few problems related to their sexuality, it might seem that the world is their oyster. In fact, their relationship offers the promise of playing out like the very happy and long-lasting relationship of an earlier lesbian couple, Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, whose relationship was celebrated in the documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement.

But there’s one problem: the specter of infidelity, or perhaps of jealousy, has invaded the domestic paradise of Agatha and Jo. It all starts when Agatha is cleaning up and comes across photographs and a diary that suggest Jo has not only had affairs with men in the past, but is continuing to do so. This thought gets into Agatha’s head, and it only gets worse when she sees Jo flirting (and more) with men.

Because director Sheila McLaughlin takes pains from the start to emphasize that this is not a conventional, naturalistic film, and because the first words we hear are a voiceover representing Agatha’s thoughts, it’s impossible to know whether what Agatha is seeing is actually happening, or if it is just a projection of her own jealousy (the title would suggest the latter).

She Must Be Seeing Things is the kind of film where the director is constantly reminding you that you are watching a film, with the result that you never get emotionally invested in anything you see on the screen. The soundtrack by John Zorn is often deliberately incongruous, and clunky acting (the cast seems to be largely nonprofessional) plus some technical oddities, like dialogue sounding like it comes from outside the scene portrayed on screen, reinforce the distancing effect. The characters in She Must Be Seeing Things also like to play roles and games, which further discourages you from taking them seriously.

The apparent goal of She Must Be Seeing Things is to examine the nature of jealousy from a careful remove, and to provide an intellectual rather than an emotional experience to the audience. It was controversial when it first came out in 1987, but today seems like a modest little film that is primarily of historical interest. The best part of this film is its frank and natural representation of a lesbian relationship, which somehow comes through despite the intellectualized nature of the film as a whole. When Agatha and Jo are together, the archness and sense of removal present in many of the other scenes disappears. This film is also interesting as the first screen appearance of Weaver, who was better known as a feminist theatre director.

Extras on the DVD include a 1978 short film, “Inside Out,” directed by Shelia McLaughlin (30 min.) and the video of a 2012 Q&A session with McLaughlin (6 min.). | Sarah Boslaugh


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