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Home Arts Alex Reynolds reviews YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER, remembers friend Harry Belafonte

Alex Reynolds reviews YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER, remembers friend Harry Belafonte

Alex Reynolds

A title that fires up the thought senses to a constraining story of love clashing with religious dogma.

Screenwriter/director Sarah Watts reflects on the provenance of the film. “I grew up gay in a Jehovah’s Witness community in a small northern town. As a teenager, I was eager to see a story with a character who even remotely resembled me on the movie screen.” Mark Slutsky, co-screenwriter, co-director continues, “when Sarah told me about her upbringing as Jehovah’s Witness over drinks at a Montreal dive bar, I was riveted.”

  In the Canadian production of “You Can Live Forever,” (theatres) religion and affairs of the heart are in conflict. The emotional impact of this star-crossed lovers fable is hard to deny with the film’s respectful depiction of both its characters and their beliefs. Viewers get an insight into a religion-based community generally unknown to outsiders.

After her father passes away, lesbian teen Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll) is sent to live in a Jehovah’s Witness community where she meets Marike (June Laporte),the daughter of a prominent Witness Elder. Their friendship blooms into an intense affair with consequences that will reshape their their lives. The film denotes a delicate balance, exploring the role which Marike’s religion and culture play in her life, and critiquing aspects of the way she is expected to live. In the Jehovah’s Witness community, same sex involvement is cause for “disfellowship,” in which the sinner is cast out of the community.

Before rushing to judgement, viewers should note the narrative lays out a firm warm feeling with the staying power of a theme that’s discretionary in detailing the roots of a religious community frequently ridiculed by non religious skeptics. The film is not a teenage melodrama, doesn’t expose, but accentuates a love coming-of-age Jehovah’s Witness romance.

When their attraction becomes too obvious to hide, the community moves to

separate the two, forcing them each to make a terrible choice between faith and love. Long time friends, and yes, loved ones, are shut out of their lives. Humble repentance and making amends, would restore their holy privileges. Not a teenage melodrama, the film’s depth centers on the contrasting emotional interplay between belief of holy scripture and personal matters of the heart sexual makeup.

There’s chemistry between O’Driscoll and Laporte as Jamie and Marike, making the film interesting to watch as the narrative takes them in interesting directions skirting between rigid Jehovah’s Witness culture and budding sexuality. Young energy and likeability fit them up as a pair of believable teens on a journey of finding themselves, a similarity to the controversial lesbian drama “Blue Is The Warmest Colour”.

Against the backdrop of the 1990s, this romantic drama unveils the complexities of queer love in the glare of disciplined religious piety. O’Driscoll is eloquent as a teen, who because of tragedy, is dealing with a never imagined same sex romance complicating her emotions. Laporte impresses, playing a girl, raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, experiencing chaos in her unexpected lesbian romance with an outsider of her faith.

“You Can Live Forever,” a tender romantic opus, enlightens with a tug-at-your-heart jitter, balancing religious fervor with human emotions. The Watts/Slutsky narrative integrates religious teachings and conservative values revealing a beautiful, sad, yet uplifting screen experience.


At concerts, audiences would join Harry Belafonte shouting “Day-O!”, the opening line of his signature call-and-response “Banana Boat Song,” launching hand-clapping Calypso notes bubbling throughout the theatre.

I met Belafonte during his initial Canadian tour in the early 60s. He was very genial as I was warmly welcomed to Harry’s dressing rooms during his week long appearances at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre and Hamilton Place Theatre. A sense of camaraderie settled in to the extent we broke bread together on each visit. Our conversations were humorous, serious, and very enlightening on many topics including the racism he endured at an opulent Toronto hotel, one of many soul destroying indignities he encountered.

Our reporter-meets-celebrity status evolved into a comfortable kinship. On one occasion, i walked Harry to a high end men’s wear store opposite the city center Gore Park. His purchase, $1500. Laughingly (he had a wicked sense of humor), I purchased a bow tie for my formal wear…$50 forever to be designated “Belafonte Bow Tie.”

Harry Belafonte, who made me feel like a friend, died April 25, age 96.

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