A painting becomes more than canvas and colors, a portrait more than a likeness of its model (real or imagined) when it has the ability to affect a person in an intense way. For victims of the Stendhal Syndrome, works of art have the capacity to render them dizzy, nauseated, and feeling faint. They are overwhelmed by the paintings’ power and become physically unwell. The main character in “Welcome to September” (Phillip Scarpaci, 2004) has an encounter with an alluring work of art and suffers a less severe but equally debilitating psychological experience.
Drew McCullogh (Victor Burke) has recently relocated from Ireland to Los Angeles and sells carpets for Taskey Carpets. The beginning of the film suggests that Drew’s life runs on routine, like many protagonists on the verge of semi-adventure. He has lunch at the same diner, returns to work, then goes to a bar before heading home. On one particular evening, after downing several servings of an amber-tinted refreshment, Drew stumbles upon an art gallery. There is a painting of a woman sitting on a swing surrounded by trees in the display window. Her longish, brown hair frames her Sandra Bullock-inspired face. She wears a sleeveless green dress that tapers into chiffon layers of turquoise and olive. She is looking to her left (the right side of the canvas). Even without eye contact, her beholder is mesmerized. Drew is also a bit drunk, and thus primed for hallucinations. The woman (Carolina A. G. Filgueiras) steps out of the painting, walks through the storefront window, and before Drew can think “am I seeing things,” she kisses him. He kisses her back and by the time she is in the painting again, Drew has turned into Pygmalion in love with Galatea.
In the Roman myth, Pygmalion makes a sculpture of a woman and names her Galatea. She is so beautiful that her maker falls in love with her. Pygmalion prays and offers gifts to love goddess Venus. Galatea turns into a real woman and lives merrily ever after with her creator. In Scarpaci’s loose reinterpretation, sculptor is replaced with consumer, statue with painting. Unable to shake the woman’s image out of his head, Drew embarks upon a mission to find as much as he can about the painting. With the help of Lacy (Salli Saffioti), a waitress from the diner, Drew eventually buys it. Unfortunately, possessing the tangible source of his obsession does not suffice. Drew can only clear his mind and fall out of love with the girl in the painting after searching for the definition of beauty and opening his eyes to what is in front of him.
Although “Welcome to September” comments on ideas of beauty, happiness, and art, it is never pretentious. The actors speak from their hearts rather than the screenwriter’s idea of “deep dialogue to use in a movie.” There’s just enough oddness to the characters’ behavior (a Chinese painter talks like Yoda and a bartender has a Webster’s dictionary within reach) to invoke sincerity and believability.