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A very haunting and beautiful movie (even though it gives a very unpleasant view of life), with a haunting snake charm style score and starring the brilliant Elias Koteas (from "Crash") and the lovely Mia Kirshner (from early first season "24" and "The Crow: City Of Angels"). Victor Garber (Sidney's dad in "Alias") also has a couple of scenes. Not to many tastes but very rewarding if you can appreciate it (although it's sense of detachment probably puts off a lot of people).
It seems to me to explore the theme of people trying to connect, in a very insular and ultimately unfulfilling way (the young gay man who goes to the ballet every night and gives away his "extra ticket" for companionship or the grieving father who pays a young girl to "babysit" his empty house so that he can have the illusion his daughter is still around for example), and also the theme of loss (variously of loved ones, innocence, youth, opportunity etc). The Exotica strip club seems such hollow place but at the same time it seems almost understandable that it would draw hapless souls night after night with nowhere else to go. Some of the dialogue seems poetic, cynical and truthful all at the same time. A film that you really need to watch to the end before you really feel you understand it's puzzle (and even then there seems to be something just out of grasp this viewing). A moving portrait of life that will linger in your mind afterwards.
"Exotica" follows four seemingly unrelated storylines: a man sitting alone at a table in a strip club, another man smuggling exotic parrot eggs into the country ("Exotica" takes place in and around Toronto), two apparent strangers walking in a field of green, and a young girl who plays a flute in an empty house. Egoyan begins with these vastly different puzzle pieces then slowly, inexorably brings them together.
Atom Egoyan is one heck of a masterful director. He is the epicenter of this cinematic symphony that leads carefully from movement to movement until the finale bursts forth in equal measure of catharsis, discovery, and tragedy. Plot to him is like tapestry weaving. He threads narrative, characters, time, and setting in such complicated iterations that one is at once nearly overwhelmed by the intricacy and awed at his skill, a testament to his brilliance as well as his belief that a film-going audience is actually intelligent.
At it's heart, "Exotica" is a tragedy of circumstances. Or better yet, a collision of tragedies of circumstances. Indeed, the film isn't so much about tragedy as it is about those who survive tragedy and the toll a single event can exact for the rest of the lives of those who survive. Exotica, the gentleman's club, serves merely as a focal point where all these individual tragedies radiate to.
Equally haunting in all this is the music. Mychael Danna's score sets the film's tone: dark, "exotic," deceptively simple but savvier than it lets on. Also worthy of note is the music in the club itself, a blend of American house funk and Middle Eastern tones, warbled in Arabic.
I highly recommend this film. Ignore the naked women who sashay from time to time in front of the screen (difficult as that may be at times) in the scenes shot in the club. The really interesting stuff occurs at the margins of the film, as the gulf separating the storylines begin to vanish, and the final scene gives you the keystone to a horrifying clear vision of a sadness so overwhelming that no one in the film escapes unscathed.
The film is very much a paradox, sensual but sterile, intense but distant, hollow but haunting. It is a complex story with a relatively simple theme. The characters include Francis (Bruce Greenwood) as a Canadian government revenue auditor who is auditing the financials of an exotic pet store (whose owner Thomas is played by Don McKeller) while trying to exorcise his demons at a strip club called EXOTICA. During his nocturnal visits to the club he pays his niece Tracey (played by Sarah Polley) to baby-sit his seemingly absent daughter. The viewer gets to know the strip club DJ, Eric (Elias Koteas); a stripper, Christina (Mia Kirshner) who dances for Francis and happens to be Eric's ex-girlfriend; and the very pregnant (by Eric) club owner Zoe (Arsinee Khanjian) who is having an affair with Christina.
The plot is an example of elliptical storytelling in that it moves in a purposeful ever-circling way to slowly reveal the connections between the worlds of each character. There is enough misdirection to keep the viewer wary of their perceptions. They must pay complete attention and remember what they see.
There are significant technical reasons to like this film. It is first and foremost a director's film and Adam Egoyan's directing is amazing. A director is responsible for both casting and for directing their cast. For Exotica Egoyan added to his cast of regulars two of the best young actresses (Kirshner and Polley) in Canada. Kirshner's performance provides an extremely unusual combination of sensuality and thinly masked pain. Polley is simply the most subtly expressive actress in film today. They are world class talents who seem to deliberately stay away from mainstream films but have little trouble getting lots of work. Greenwood, McKellar, Koteas, and Khanjian, are likewise excellent. Egoyan kept all six reined-in so that their performances are low-key and restrained. While there were many stylish and beautiful camera shots he mostly keeps the characters at a distance. Exotic décor, busy sets, atmosphere, restrained acting, minimal tight shots, and frequent plot misdirection keeps the viewer from bonding or strongly identifying with the characters. He did not want the viewer getting into the heads of the characters, he wanted us to internalize the theme and to take it into our heads. This way if we pay attention we will learn as much about ourselves as we will about the characters.
The theme is substitution, how the process of living is simply a process of substitution. We grow out of things and find substitutes for them. We lose something precious but we carry on by finding a substitute. We expand our horizons and find substitutes that we did not know about or that we thought unattainable. We need something we can't have so we find something that works as a substitute. Sometimes the substitutes are an improvement on the original, sometimes they are a better match with a new stage of life, sometimes they are an imperfect substitute but the best that we can manage, and sometimes (certainly in this film) they are an addictive trap that keep us from moving on or growing.
Most people's dreams don't come true and they settle for a substitute, often without really noticing. The most compelling scene in `Field of Dreams' is when Burt Lancaster is talking about what it was like to give up his dream of playing major league baseball. He says: `It was like coming this close to your dream and then watching it brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time I didn't think much about it. We just don't recognize the most significant moments in our lives when they happen. Back then I thought: there will be other days, I didn't realize that was the only day'. While his character accepted the end of his dream and substituted a life as the town doctor, in Exotica the substitutes are dysfunctional because there is no acceptance. That is why so many of the substitutions involve payment, a transactional substitution is a temporary event and allows the illusion to stay alive.
Exotica focuses on the substitutes used by its central characters. Francis substitutes Christina for his daughter and Tracey for Christina (when she was his daughter's babysitter). Eric substitutes his club DJ job for the career he wanted in radio, he substitutes his voyeurism in the club for his inability to have a lasting relationship. Zoe substitutes for her dead mother and continues to run the club, instead of a husband she has Eric contractually substitute so that she can have a baby. Thomas substitutes his opera liaisons for a real relationship and substitutes an incubator for the eggs he has taken from a nest. Christina substitutes a protective Francis for her uncaring and probably abusive father. Voyeurism substitutes for interaction.
Eric's voyeurism eventually leads him to the conclusion that the Francis-Christina mutual dependency has gone from a temporary coping mechanism to an addictive trap. He elects to destroy that relationship by convincing Francis to touch Christina. Eric knows that the relationship must end once this occurs, no matter how Christina reacts. Either she will no longer be able to use Francis because he betrayed her trust or Francis will no longer be able to use her because he can no longer maintain his illusion of protecting her purity. Then they will both have to move on and seek new and hopefully more positive substitutes.
Contrary to some who have commented on this film I did not see any real `plot holes'. Almost every detail is eventually explained and if anything Egoyan made the plot a little too predictable. But at least this was balanced by some interesting misdirection-like having Tracey live above a shabby strip mall so you jump to the conclusion that she is a child prostitute and that Francis has a thing for young girls. Certainly on the second viewing it is clear that many clues are provided and that the outcome is being subtly telegraphed throughout the film in a kind of mental striptease.
As already mentioned, the really unique feature of this movie is that the viewer does not really connect with the characters but instead connects with the substitution theme. The audience is given a new perspective from which to think about their own substitutions. Perceptive members of the audience are forced to be more than observers. This is powerful stuff.
I needed to see more, and bought a copy of "Exotica". This film is an absolute masterpiece. Again, like "Sweet Hereafter" it has a slow burning quality,accentuated by the repetitive nature of the lives of the main characters. Excellent performances from Bruce Greenwood, probably one of the most underrated & understated actors of his generation, Sarah Polley, Elias Koteas and the beautiful Mia Kirshner. As you watch this film, you wonder how the lives of these characters will eventually impact on each other, and your mind searches for possible explanations. When this explanation arrives, it hits you like a tidal wave, washing away any doubts that you may have had about the quality of Egoyans storytelling.
After gorging myself on a surfeit of summer blockbusters, which although enjoyable at the time, like a Chinese meal, leave you empty again some few hours later, I needed nourishment for my mind as well as my eyes. The discovery of the genius of Atom Egoyan has provided this spiritual feeding.
For most of its duration Exotica presents a primary mystery (a child's murder) as a puzzle to be solved, then has one of the main characters, Francis, explain the mystery towards the end; but the questions remain do we trust that explanation? Are things that simple? Did Egoyan really want the end to tie up the knots tightly and leave no ambiguity? I still find the film deeply ambiguous and disturbing.
I think as a viewer, Egoyan wants us to focus on two characters more than others Eric and Francis. Both are linked by a tragedy and a sense of redemption but Francis is a far more enigmatic character, someone who substitutes his daughter's murder for quasi erotic pleasure at Exotica. Egoyan only hints at why Francis continues to substitute his dead daughter with the erotic dancer Christina at Exotica. The supposedly sexual element of their relationship is not resolved at all. This clouds the murder mystery which the film supposedly resolves via Francis's disclosure.
Exotica, I feel, wants us to read deeper meanings in what is presented, but ultimately, the compulsion to read between the lines is what it invites the viewer to do, however, final or revealing, the end might be.
You have to pay careful attention to this movie. It bounces around in time, and all the threads of the plot don't come totally together until the very last moment of the movie. But it has a devastating and gripping payoff. ONLY FOR INTELLIGENT MOVIE GOERS. It's a tough movie, kinda slow, but it is unusual, inventive and in my opinion, very satisfying.
Also recommend THE SWEET HEREAFTER, directed by Atom Egoyan as well. Same fractured structure and sense of sadness. But beautiful.
The film is almost 'Magnolia' in a strip club. I say that because it is about several characters whose lives are so interconnected they will inevitably meet. If one person were removed, their lives might just collapse. One of the characters, played by Bruce Greenwood has a destiny that will, in fact. meet up with one of the club's young dancers and the DJ, something we do not expect. We make assumptions about characters, whether they or good or bad. I don't know how many times I was wrong. The film twists so deviously yet so quietly and deliberately. We don't know anyone's full story until the end, which reveals something so heartbreaking, it almost tears the fabric of the movie.
Of note is the movie's cinematography and music. Some of the music is eroticised, creating the atmosphere of the strip club. But others, like a haunting piece that plays over the 'field scene' are breathtaking. That piece of music has to be one of the most effective and beautiful piece of music I have ever heard. Whoever did it [ I believe it was Michael Danner or something] has to be commended for creating a piece I will always remember. The cinematography is just as effective. It is darkly filmed, with some graininess but vaguely rich. The field scene has a yellow tinge to it: It feels almost heavenly. From what is revealed later, it is anything but heavenly......
An amazing film that must be seen by thinking moviegoers. From the way it was advertised and the video box art, it looks like some voyeuristic porno. It is anything but. After seeing Egoyan's other films, like 'Felicia's Journey' and 'The Sweet Hereafter', it must be concluded that this is his most accomplished film. Truly haunting, hypnotic and emotionally draining........... A Perfect 10.
Many of the most intelligent films begin with the notion that life is a performance, possibly an acting out of remembrances. Then, as the filmed performance of that life performance unfurls, we have amble opportunity for layer shifting and ambiguities... lots of things that amplify power like the notion of an actor who is acting that they are acting, or better: not acting, just "staying."
We have here one of the tightest films I've ever encountered. The stance of the acting, the braiding and mirroring in the story, the score and the camera eye are completely congruent. So completely congruent that I have placed it as a 4 of 4, which is more than just a good film. In my system, it denotes required viewing, sort of an equivalent of Bloom's list of great books without which one cannot invent intelligence.
The trip is rugged, demanding but rewarding.
We have a young woman acting as a schoolgirl and providing succor to a wounded gent. We have her former lover, damaged and bitter at his frustrations, `directing' her. Both work for someone who hides addiction under the blanket of tradition. The wounded gent is incapable of performance (even `touching') so acts as codependent, demanding recipient of performances.
This is the stuff of life that anyone experiences. Here, it is framed within a certain kind of stage.
Within this, we have watchers, auditors, voyeurs, monitors, toilet interlocutors, two-way mirrors. We also have pregnancy, eggs, children... and death. The bearer of eggs (soon to be lost to love) and the wounded gent are thrown together, and thus begins the braid.
The end of the braid puts us at the point where one performance cannot continue, but the other must go on. Is it "reality" that continues?
Ted's evaluation: 4 of 4 -- Every visually literate person should experience this.
The film seems to have been marketed as a borderline porn film, and although it has a single scene of partial nudity, that is by no means what it's about. The actors give wonderful performances and the director does a great job of crafting a thoughtful and thought-provoking masterpiece.
I'm not going to say more about the storyline because if too much is given away you won't get those moments of revelation. Just go out and rent or buy this masterpiece of cinema.
Excellent direction, script, cast (especially Don McKellar as Thomas Pinto), music (Mychael Danna) and photography (Paul Sarossy) make this indie (budgeted at 2 million Canadian Dollars) no less than a masterpiece. Simply a must.
Even if I were to provide enough information about the film without concern about spoilers, it would be hard to describe the plot of the film. "Exotica", while centering on a strip club, is mostly about relationships, (all unhealthy to very great extents) and the evolution of one's character and personality. The film is told in a non-linear style, which is usually very refreshing, but I found that while I was willing to endure the very slow pacing for a great denouement, particularly because I felt like I was being set up for one, I didn't get one. These problems with the film are in direct contrast with the beautiful and stylish cinematography and the fairly rich character development. Things as subtle as Victor Garber's (who played Greenwood's brother in a small but important role) "Black Power" t-shirts were, upon reflection, a great touch. And the performances of the main players were decent, though I will admit that I got a little tired of Mia Kirshner after awhile.
Unfortunately, the negatives and positives of "Exotica" offset one another, and therefore left me pretty tepid. It can be recommended to anyone who likes independent cinema, but beyond that, I can't imagine it being tolerated by a mainstream audience. Perhaps it deserves a second viewing, to appreciate it further, but I give it a 5/10.
Exotica brings nothing to the table, not even a young Mia Kirchner stripping in a school girl outfit could turn this embarrassment around.
It strikes me as faux deep, when really there's not much there and the people are aliens from a faroff planet. Don't get me wrong, I empathized with the situations in this movie (Exotica), but I hit a brick wall with the characters who were supposed to carry it to me.
In fact, I love the set-up, and there seemed to be a foundation of something I could relate to and empathize with greatly, but why does it have to be done through these lifeless, bloodless, dour, uniform, impenetrable characters?