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Elizabeth, a thirty-six-year-old academic and published essayist, arrives in St. John’s Newfoundland from Toronto, ostensibly to give a public reading of Katherine Mansfield’s Bliss. But in reality she is there to continue her clandestine affair with Peter. He is forty and a highly regarded professor of cultural studies at the local university.

After an initially happy and emotional reunion, Elizabeth is unexpectedly confronted with the unusual and unremitting character of Peter, his family and associates. As she becomes aware of the profound differences between their two worlds, which from a distance had seemed so similar, she also realizes that Peter’s understanding of their liaison includes much more commitment than her own.

As Peter and Elizabeth sit in their hotel room watching a sadly ironic video of her public reading of Bliss, they bring their relationship to a close.

UNDERSTANDING BLISS was shot on video and transferred to 35mm, utilizing the immediacy of video to maximize the physical intensity of the affair. The harbour, steep streets and peculiar architecture of St. John’s exert a powerful influence on the characters, the visual style of the production and the eventual outcome of the story.

“Understanding Bliss confirms my impression that MacGillivray is the most intelligent of contemporary Canadian Filmmakers”. Robin Wood – CineAction

MacGillivray has made one of the best films ever about the way people are defined by the art they love.”   Stephen Godfrey – The Globe and Mail

Feature Film – 88 min. 1990. Toronto International Film Festival 1992, Best Film Atlantic Film Festival 1992, Festival du Nouveau Cinema, Melbourne International Film Festival.