Patricia Rozema brings back her 1987 indie classic ‘I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing’

A woman wearing a cardigan holding papers in the movie “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.”
Sheila McCarthy in the movie “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.”
(Kino Lorber)

The 1987 indie classic “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing” is returning to theaters in a 4K restoration. Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema, the film won the Prix de Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors Fortnight and was the opening-night selection at Toronto’s Festival of Festivals. Rozema will be in attendance for a Q&A at the 7:15 p.m. March 18 screening at Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

The funny and charming story follows nerdy amateur photographer Polly (Sheila McCarthy), who lands a temp gig at a hip Toronto art gallery and becomes entwined in the lives of her fashionable curator boss, Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon), and Gabrielle’s lover, Mary (Ann-Marie McDonald). When Kevin Thomas reviewed the film for The Times 35 years ago, he wrote, “Swift, witty and intimate, it is an amazingly confident first feature that reveals with exquisite humor and compassion the pitfalls in a relationship between two radically different women. Beyond this, the film also sends up the perils and pomposity of the art world.

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“[‘Mermaids’] is, to be sure, more about people than art or criticism, and the way our impressions of each other can trip us up. McCarthy and Baillargeon create two likable people, so easily understood by us in our godlike position as viewers, but who misunderstand each other as easily as we misunderstand the people we care about in our own lives.”


The film became an art-house hit and LGBTQ favorite and placed Rozema at the fore of a generation of female Canadian directors making inroads in the 1980s. In an interview before the original release of the film, the director told The Times, “When film is considered an art form, it’s OK for women to be involved. When it’s merely business, then you find a predominance of men. I never had trouble as a female — maintaining control on the set, or whatever — with a mostly male crew. My way is to never doubt that I have it. Being aggressive or overemphatic is a sign of weakness, of doubting it.”

The film’s success surprised Rozema. “I’m a bit blown away by the reception,” she admitted, “because I deliberately tried not to think about who’s going to like the film. … Keep the budget down so you don’t have this albatross around your neck. Do the film the way Polly takes her photographs — just because you want to see something beautiful. Don’t try to anticipate the taste of a world full of strangers.”

'I've Heard the Mermaids Singing'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Playing: Starts March 18, Alamo Drafthouse, downtown Los Angeles