Here's a first: an AIDS documentary nested inside an opera that's obsessed with albino squirrels, figs, palindromes, and Pythagoras. In this portrait of AIDS patients/activists Tim McCaskell (the Canadian founder of AIDS Action Now!) and Zackie Achmat (who refused his own anti-retroviral meds to advocate more widely available HIV treatment in South Africa), Fig Trees riffs on Gertrude Stein & Virgil Thomson's 1934 opera Four Saints in Three Acts.
It's a lot to take in, but whenever the Stein-like concentric imagery become almost impenetrable, director John Greyson lobs a factual pebble — a talking-head quote or archival footage — into his lovely visual pool to help us make sense of the ripples.
Another unlikely source of inspiration seems to be Weird Al, as the film is studded with music-video parodies of U2 and Michael Jackson. Often sublime, Fig Trees manages to strike a delicate balance among solemnity, wry humor, and rage.