Multilingual global narratives are, apparently, all the rage. From The Constant Gardener to Babel, directors are making like transnational corporations and exploiting 21st-century interconnectedness for all the Third World pathos they can pack into a single screenplay. In 3 Needles, Canadian Thom Fitzgerald has actually attempted to stuff three films into one — and there simply isn’t room.
Taking place in rural China, Montreal, and coastal South Africa, these stories are linked by the effects of AIDS on the lives of the main characters: people waste away, misinformation and superstition prevail, morally repugnant deals are made. Fitzgerald clearly set out to make an “important” film, but in trying to squeeze it into two hours he has essentially made three reasonably adequate TV episodes, so the risks he takes feel like TV risks: Sopranos violence mixed with NYPD Blue flesh and Six Feet Under candor. There are moments (especially in the third vignette, set in Africa) that brush against the biophiliac visual sensibility of Terence Malick, but Fitzgerald cycles through everything so quickly there’s no time to digest any of it, nor is there opportunity to appreciate any of the characters as actual people. In striving to make a big movie about big ideas, Fitzgerald has made a scant film, one that would struggle to fill even the smallest of screens. Opens December 1 at Village East Cinemas