Register Monday | June 17 | 2019

An Hourglass Romance

Christos Sourligas’s Elephant Shoes is love at first sight

There's nothing like a good ol' fashioned whirlwind romance; the meeting, the flirting, the possibilities. Lust that goes from a spark to full-on flames is a high like no other. The best romances come out of nowhere and when they happen, you can't get enough.

While there's no methadone-substitute for this experience, writer/director Christos Sourligas's feature film Elephant Shoesis a nice fix for relationship junkies who like to fall hard and fast.

For Alexis (Stacie Morgain Lewis) and Manny (Greg Shamie), the whole relationship, in all of its many stages, takes place in twelve hours. She is a lost tourist from Toronto who asks a local for directions. The local, who lives around the corner, charms her and they go up to his apartment for drinks-she makes the first move and they're fucking in the kitchen within the hour. They spend the next eleven hours zooming through the phases of what would otherwise be a lengthy relationship. They do the whole getting-to-know-you and the oh-my-God-we're-perfect-for-each-other thing; the attempt at denying the fantasy thing; the confessional talks that bring out the unintended (and intended) jealousies; the tests of trust. Their trajectory even makes a brief foray into the mundane before Alexis must decide: will she or won't she catch that train back to Toronto?

It's a charming feature film that's rightfully garnered such accolades as the Santa Fe Film Festival Audience Award and official selection status at both the Montreal World Film Festival and the Athens International Film Festival. Shot in Sourligas's own apartment, the story of how the film came to be is a well-known one: In 2003 the filmmaker's girlfriend of four years left him; instead of moping, he wrote a movie three weeks later.

For twelve straight days Sourligas would go to work, come home and write until the wee hours. When the script was finished he auditioned only Shamie (whom he had met through friends) and Shamie's then-girlfriend Stacie Morgain Lewis (Shamie and Stacie are now married). They were perfect for the roles. They workshopped the script over three or four days in a tiny apartment in New York City; shot in Montreal for four-and-a-half days and edited it in just thirteen. The film cost $10,000 to make. (Sourligas maxed out three credit cards but had them repaid within a year, thanks to his day job as the head of international TV sales for Just for Laughs). The film is licensed to Alliance Atlantis, and will be in most video stores on DVD in late March or early April.

Behind the scenes the movie was a comedy of errors. Shamie broke his finger in a door, and a few days later scraped his back, neck and arms when the base of a bookshelf cracked and fell over (luckily, he wasn't badly hurt). The crew had problems getting their cameras to work and had to spend time tracking down ones that did. Finally, one day when shooting outdoors, Sourligas's apartment was broken into and goods worth about $3000 were stolen, including the actors' passports. The insurance covered half of it; Sourligas had to foot the other half.

In spite of the off-camera blunders, both Shamie and Morgain Lewis turned in fantastic performances that make the film what it is. During the initial meeting of Alexis and Mannie, Morgain Lewis plays Alexis so awkward-cool that you want to cringe and Shamie is so heart-on-his-sleeve excited you feel a touch embarrassed for him, too. The sexual tension is beautifully broken during the ensuing sex scene and-awkwardness out of the way-the characters can then get down to their honest selves. Sourligas said he had been accused of creating a weak character in Alexis, but in truth she starts out as the underdog and comes into her own by the time she and Manny are belting out old favorites on the bed. Shamie and Morgain Lewis allow us to delve into those moments, rather than focus on how the actors are representing them. The film works because it's honest, right down to the title. When you say "elephant shoes" silently, it looks like your lips are mouthing "I love you." We've all had moments when we say something to thinly veil its true meaning.

The other reason this movie is a gem is because it comes from the heart-even if it was Sourligas's broken one.

"I was over that relationship in about six months," he said. "When I'm watching the film now it's like, who the hell wrote this? Oh, I did! I've seen this movie, honestly, about 100 to 200 times. I saw the film twice this week. People reacted to the film differently every time so when I see it, it's like I'm seeing it through their eyes."

Although his intention was to cram the breadth and depth of a long-term relationship into twelve fly-by hours, neither the movie nor the relationship ever reaches the point of becoming stale. When the credits roll, the viewer isn't left with baggage (well, maybe a bit of carry-on luggage), but with a ticket to enjoy their own next wham-bam beginning.

Melissa Wheeler is getting to know Montreal's culture creators. Her column appears every two weeks. Read more columns by Melissa Wheeler.