In China, Ping (Lucy Liu) is a pregnant young woman running a black market blood collection scam that creates a mini-epidemic in a rural village. In Montreal, Denys (Shawn Ashmore) is a porn actor hiding his positive HIV status in order to continue working and supporting his mother (Stockard Channing), who herself goes to extreme lengths to provide for the family's future. And, in Africa, Sister Clara (Chlo Sevigny) is a young novice nun driven to convert the rapidly dying Africans to Catholicism before it's too late who makes a desperate bargain with a corrupt plantation owner to help prevent the spread of HIV in the region.
Good performances by an impressive cast, some beautiful cinematography, and a relatively light touch on a heavy subject (AIDS, which is never once mentioned by name) help make 3 Needles an absorbing, provocative viewing experience. Writer-director-producer Thom Fitzgerald's 2005 film assays a global view of the pandemic, similar to Traffic's approach to the drug trade and Babel's slant on the interconnectedness of human events 'round the world (although 3 Needles is considerably less affecting than those two efforts). Using five different languages (Afrikaans, Mandarin, Xhosa, French, and English), he take us to three continents. In China, a pregnant woman (Lucy Liu) pays peasants who donate their blood (which she then sells illegally), in the process starting an mini-scourge that virtually wipes out an entire village. In Montreal, a porn actor (Shawn Ashmore) cheats on a blood test; when his mother (an excellent Stockard Channing) discovers he's HIV positive, she's driven by outrageous fortune to react in some very strange and unpredictable ways. Finally, three nuns (an unlikely combo of Olympia Dukakis, Sandra Oh, and Chloe Sevigny) set out to save souls "condemned to purgatory" by their disease; but when Sister Clara (Sevigny), who's still a novice, tries to save actual lives as well, she makes a startling bargain with the devil to do it. While much of this is quite poignant, it's to the film's credit that little or none of it is handled with excessive sententiousness, self-pity, or tragedy for its own sake. Actually, there's a good deal of gentle humor, not to mention some absolutely gorgeous shots (including Montreal in autumn and the overall geography of the unnamed coastal African country where the final scenario takes place). And the ultimate message, delivered by Dukakis in voice-over, is hauntingly simple: "Why have we not joined together at last to fight this virus?" Bonus material includes interviews, deleted scenes, and a couple of AIDS documentaries. --Sam Graham