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Disabled Actress Is a Hit at Cannes

May 21, 1998

CANNES, France (AP) _ One of the most striking images at Cannes this year wasn’t on a movie screen.

It was the sight of Australian actress and screenwriter Heather Rose, who has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk or speak, being carried up the red steps of the festival palace in her evening gown for the premiere of a film she wrote and starred in.

Since it first showed here last week, ``Dance Me to My Song″ has had journalists and industry people jamming the aisles of hastily scheduled extra screenings.

The film is remarkable for its no-holds-barred look at the daily life of a severely disabled person _ portrayed by that person herself _ and the ultimately positive and inspiring note on which it ends.

The character of Julia, 30, uses a wheelchair and communicates through a voice synthesizer and computer, as does Ms. Rose.

The film begins with Julia stark naked in her wheelchair, being attended to by her caregiver, Madelaine.

Far from being gratuitous, the nudity immediately drives home how vulnerable someone in Julia’s condition is to her caregiver. And the self-absorbed Madelaine turns out to be a nightmare.

Solicitous of Julia at one moment, cruel and physically abusive the next, Madelaine is obsessed with finding a man, and the quest makes her miserable. She brings a boyfriend to Julia’s house, where the couple place dark glasses on Julia, then go into her bedroom to have sex.

Eventually, Julia meets Eddie, a man she encounters on the street and asks to help hook up her voice machine. They develop a genuine friendship. One day, Julia asks Eddie to put her favorite song on the stereo.

``Dance me to my song,″ she asks. And he does, whirling her around in his arms.

Not long after, Madelaine seduces Eddie in Julia’s home _ a moment that is pure agony for Julia, who has fallen in love with Eddie.

In an extraordinary twist, Julia makes it clear to Eddie that she, too, desires him. Eddie responds, and Madelaine discovers the two in bed together. She calls him a pervert and throws him out of both of their lives.

As Madelaine gets more and more abusive, Julia decides to fire her _ even at the risk of having to return to an institution. Madelaine responds by beating Julia. Yet Julia, knowing the unstable Madelaine could easily kill her, still has the strength to utter _ through her machine _ the film’s most poignant line.

``I stole your boyfriend,″ she says triumphantly.

The film, directed by Rolf de Heer, is not Ms. Rose’s first as an actress; she had a tiny role in another Australian film, ``Bad Boy Bubby.″ She co-wrote the current film with Frederick Stahl.

``My outlook has changed,″ Ms. Rose says of the experience. ``I don’t let people tell me what to do or say anymore.″

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