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Firstly, a note in regards to the comments made by the only other
person who has commented on this movie: This film was not directed by
Atom Egoyan. He is simply the executive producer.
It is however, distinctly and undeniably Canadian. It is disturbing, slow, sparse, and was made with an obviously low budget. It is also about a taboo subject and tends toward exploitation.
The story is really a working class update of Lolita with a triangle involving a woman, her boyfriend and a 13 year old girl. The elements of child abuse, working class life and female sexual identity are explored.
What makes the movie so unforgettably troubling is not the plot or the characters, but the way in which they are presented. The film is shot very simply with low grade film stock and has the look of a cheaply produced Canadian television show. The direction is mostly amateurish, involving ineffective framing and choppy scene transitions. And the acting is really quite awful. All these filmic problems only heighten the anxiety wrought by watching the film. The story is told bluntly and realistically. It offers little in the way of socially redeeming values and contains the most horrifying scene of sexual abuse i have ever witnessed in a movie. Told in flashback,it involves a toddler's first person view of a sexual assault and is, strangely enough, the most accomplished scene in the film. The remainder of the film involves brutality, both emotional and physical, between three incredibly damaged human beings including a teenage girl whose life is headed for certain disaster.
By the film's end, all the character's lives have been irreparably destroyed. The viewer is left with feelings of unfulfillment, as the movie sinks into a pit of hopelessness. It is not depressing in the same way as movies like Midnight Cowboy or Leaving Las Vegas were. The effect brought on the viewer in this case is closer to despair. A despair that we know that something is terribly wrong with the characters, especially the 13 year old girl, but all we can do is stare into the abyss of their lives as they go from bad to worse. The cumulative effect is not unlike that in Suspicious River, another Canadian film about sexual abuse. Like Suspicious River, this film takes the viewer on a difficult journey and offers few rewards. It remained in my mind for weeks after i saw it and i don't' think i will ever forget it. The end, involving a freeze frame and the sound of young children laughing, forms a horrifying imprint on the mind.
I often wonder, what is wrong with Canadian film? With few exceptions (notably Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, and much of David Cronenberg's work), the output from the country has been poor. Much of it is cruel to the viewer. Is it the landscape? I can't shake an image i have of Canadian film as a barren stretch of land, with a few people living in isolated houses. And in those houses, something terrible is happening.
I hadn't heard of this movie even though I read all the entertainment
It's Canadian, but I figured since Atom Egoyan was nominated for The Sweet
Hereafter last year, his next movie would be noticed - this apparently
wasn't. So when I saw it in the new releases I got it just because I found
Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter to be brilliant. I expected a similarly
and psychological look into perverse human relationships, told with subtle
flashbacks, but I didn't expect this very straightforward story. It does,
however, have the usual flashbacks to explain why things are as they are
Right off the bat Egoyan is referencing his other two most celebrated movies (mentioned above), in the opening scene with the school bus and the schoolgirl in uniform. So he forces us to look beyond the current story and look at him as filmmaker, to realize this is an exercise for him.
As always his dialogue, pacing and settings are realistic and the film has the grainy Canadian movie look of a 16 mm film shot on a low budget. The story unfolds slowly and leisurely, and the characters grab our attention as interesting individuals. Yet despite the purely Canadian feel, he is cramming in familiar bits of American movies right and left. Besides his nod to certain of Hitchcock's devices, he includes the Woody Allenesque use of a handheld camera and abrupt scene cuts. He uses these sparingly as if he is having fun making this movie, but doesn't want to intrude too much in the overall effect.
On the surface we have a poor suburb of Toronto, lower class people living to party in between their grinding jobs, violence as an everyday part of life. The video rental box makes this look like an updated "Lolita" but it's not that at all. Right away one starts to sympathize with certain characters and prejudge others - but then there's a little switch.
This latest movie by Atom Egoyan is just as moving and thought-provoking, but without the labyrinthine subplots and interactions which fill his other movies. It's all laid out simply. There is nothing obscure. It's not a new story at all. But it's done in a very Atom Egoyan way. Light, evanescent, a gossamer look at the evil of the human heart. Definitely worth seeing - I give it 3 1/2 stars out of 4.
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