By Kevin Ritchie
The sight of a teenage boy exhaling in ecstasy as he gently rubs his fingers over the large purple bruises on his arm might be a sensory overload for some viewers.But it shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with the works of Jeremy Podeswa, a 1984 Ryerson film grad and director whose films explore love ans its various guises.
Podeswa’s The Five Senses opened in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Perspectives Canada program in 1999. He returns to this year’s festival and to the realm of the senses with the short film, Touch. “All of my films deal with the necessity of love and about the importance of pursuing it against all odds,” says Podeswa via email from Greece, where he’s researching his next film. “And, by extension, the sadness created by the absence of love.”
Based on Patrick Roscoe’s short story, My Lover’s Touch, the film follows a young boy whose notion of love is twisted by deep psychological trauma and physical abuse. Touch opens in a suburban basement where the boy (played by an unsettling Brendan Fletcher from The Five Senses) lies in darkness, caressing his battered body and pining for “his lover.” He escapes, is hospitalized and placed in foster care, but he can’t focus on daily life. He continues to obsessively yearn for his lover. “For him, love is pain and domination,” says Podeswa. “It’s about how desire can be patterned and the notion of love shifted to reflect difficult subjective experiences.”
What’s more unnerving is Fletcher’s narration of the boy’s experience. Closely following Roscoe’s story, Podeswa forces the audience to examine how the boy interprets abuse as love by telling the story in the first person. Last year, Podeswa put audiences in his own head in 24fps, a short film about his father, who first turned him on to movie making by taking him to see Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis.
Podeswa’s cinematic upbringing led him to Ryerson film school in the early eighties and the first short he made as a student, David Roche Talks to You About Love – a 22 minute adaptation of a one-man play – was accepted into the film festival in 1984. It went on to win the Norman Jewison Award for best student film in Canada and was broadcast on CBC, PBS and Channel Four in Britain.
Podeswa’s other directing credits including the short film Nion, which he directed in his fourth year at Ryerson and 1994’s Eclipse – his first feature based on the Arthur Schnitzler play La Ronde. For four years in middle nineties he got an insider’s view of the film festival by assisting festival head honcho Piers Handling. He did everything from introducing films to hosting visitors like Jean Luc-Godard and Al Pacino.
He remembers his humbler days at Ryerson as being fun and stimulating but with a bit of red tape mixed in. “The administration didn’t have much respect for the students, making access to equipment very difficult,” he says.”In the end, the school was kind of what you made it,” says Podeswa. “I wanted to make films and I did. I wasn’t looking for outside validation.”