How much can you really know someone? That is the question asked by Anne Émond’s film Nelly, a biopic of the novelist Nelly Arcan (1973-2009), who also worked as a prostitute. Nelly, born Isabelle Fortier, became a novelist because, as she says in the film, without her writing, she would be nothing. Sadly, however, the alienation Nelly experienced both as a writer and as a prostitute led her to commit suicide. This is a tough story to watch, but a necessary one to know. It also doesn’t hurt that it is an exceptional film that reads as poetry and taps into the desperation and loss we all feel at some point.
Readers (and inane talk shows) can always be counted on to wonder how much of the author’s life is present in his/her novels. Nelly’s novels were no exception, especially since she chose to write about what she lived and how her occupation(s) were eating away at her very essence. The film itself is disjointed but not hard to understand: you will be treated to scenes of her life – running the whole gamut from her meeting with various clients (johns), attending publicity events, attempting to find love with her on-and-off again boyfriend, and, ultimately, contemplating suicide.
Myléne MacKay is absolutely stunning as the adult Nelly. One memorable scene (whether fictional or real is unclear, but beside the point) occurs when Nelly strides into a ball. She is wearing an extraordinary dress and walks with such a grace that you could almost mistake her as royalty. The music playing for this scene is just right: a dream-like tune that I won’t soon forget (FYI, I’m deaf and I hear with a cochlear implant, and this is why I like hearing some of the time). That dream-like score indicates that beauty, talent, passion, grace, and even sadness and despair are all fleeting, especially in the hands of sadistic and cruel men.
Sunday Sept. 11, 7:00 pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.