Review by Michael Jacobson
Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Mia Kirshner, Arsinee Khanjian, Sarah Polley
Director: Atom Egoyan
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: November 16, 1999
Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter was my
favorite film of 1997, and as such, I couldn’t wait to delve into his primary
international success, Exotica.
The experience certainly proved that the masterful genius of Egoyan
is no fluke. Here, he uses the
backdrop of a rather classy strip club to weave his sad stories of lost and
lonely souls looking for some kind of fulfillment.
alone is a decidedly Egoyan touch…most filmmakers would give in to the
temptation to explore such an
the kind found during tony
Dominican Republic all
inclusive getaways, in all of its seediness, and
create another lurid tale of behind the scenes of adult entertainment like Boogie
Nights. But Egoyan’s creation is not about sexuality—it’s
about connections. And the world of
the gentlemen’s club is an ideally ironic setting.
Here, for a few dollars, any man can be made to feel special, or worthy,
or attractive, or even have some lovely lady just sit across from you for a
while so that you can open up and spill your troubles for awhile.
Then, of course, the song ends, and it’s on to the next client.
It’s not psychoanalysis, after all.
really runs with the escapism theme. His
club is modeled like a
tropical paradise, complete with palm trees (something I
guess Canadians don’t see much of),
and the kinds of clubs you can find on
Cancun vacations. All to help the average Joe forget his troubles for a little
while, and I suppose, even forget the nature of the establishment he is
creation of moods seems to be the primary concern of Egoyan, and he knows
exactly the ways to go about it. For
instance, he avoids the conventional narrative style of filmmaking whereby each
character’s relationship to one another is clearly defined and explained.
Instead, he’ll create a scene where two characters interact, and
because we don’t know if they’re friends, lovers, married, enemies, or
whatever, we have no choice but to look for the clues inherent in the scenes.
By coaxing us into viewing the film this way, we can’t help but ponder
the characters’ emotions, shown not just through their performances, but in
the way spatial relationships are set up or the way they either constantly look
at or look away from their counterpart in the scene.
Thus, mood is created and maintained, and constantly focused upon, rather
than just the exposition.
story centers around three principle figures.
Francis (Greenwood, in a marvelous performance) is a rather lonely and
quietly sad accountant for Canada Revenue.
We see him more than anyone else in a constant state of reaching out,
trying to communicate, trying to heal from wounds we only later understand.
In a bit of irony, it is when he finally succeeds in making contact that
his real unraveling begins. He
comes to Exotica to spend hours at a private table with one of the club’s
dancers, Christina (Kirshner), who seems to regard him with a special favor that
has nothing to do with romance or sex. Christina
is the ex-girlfriend of the club’s DJ, Eric (Koteas).
Eric is one of those typical strip club mike guys who seems to drone on
and on, as though he actually believed customers were there to hear him talk and
here, like in The Sweet Hereafter, employs
a sometimes non-linear form of storytelling, and unlike many films, it’s not
grandstanding or flexing artistic muscle. His
primary concern, as mentioned, is to sustain his quiet, sad mood, and sometimes
the best way to do that is to bring the necessary elements from the past to
visual fruition at just the right moments.
The pasts of the characters, as in The
Sweet Hereafter, provide much necessary information about them, and why they
are where they are and act the way they act in the present time.
The best of these flashbacks involves a missing persons search, where a
younger Eric and Christina first get to know each other, and we later learn how
that segment connects both of these characters to Francis. When not showing flashbacks, Egoyan sometimes provides subtle
reminders of the past, like a low siren that resonates in the background from
scene to scene.
of this even touches upon Egoyan’s mastery as a technical filmmaker, which
comes to sometimes surreal fruition within the confines of his club.
His camera moves slowly, purposely, through the expansive entertainment
area, rising and falling to allow us a view of every corner, and the way the
room opens up into warmer and cooler zones, with various lighting and smoke
techniques. In two very different
scenes, Egoyan even finds creative and narrative uses for one way mirrors.
short, Egoyan is a writer and director who convinces his audiences to trust him
completely, to simply go along for the spellbinding ride, and he never fails to
deliver on his promises in the end. His
style is to relax the viewer into paying attention, and because he or she feels
so much of what Egoyan communicates rather than just see and hear it, the movie
going experience becomes a richly rewarding one, rather than a headache inducing
nightmare of having to keep track of this or that.
With three masterful films to enjoy on DVD (including Felicia’s
Journey), there’s no
question that Atom Egoyan is a unique talent in the industry, and an artist to
keep a close eye on.
It’s a shame that Miramax didn’t put half the effort into this DVD presentation that New Line offered for The Sweet Hereafter. This isn’t exactly a poor looking disc, but just a tad soft throughout. Some sequences, like the moving camera through the club I mentioned, seem to be designed to move through zones where images are a little softer and lost in the haze, and flushed with various colored lights of one kind or another. But other sequences just seem to be victimized by a lack of sharpness that was not intended. Colors are generally very good, with no bleeding, and not much in the way of noticeable grain. The best way to describe the overall effect is to imagine watching one of your better looking discs with the sharpness turned way down on your monitor.
Dolby Surround track is serviceable, but not remarkable, and given the fact that
the club scenes feature a lot of music, not as dynamic as you might think.
All in all, I would say the quality is not nearly so poor as to avoid the
disc…just a bit of a disappointing effort.
Apparently, there’s no significance to the eye catching “Miramax