19 June 2009

I Wanna Be Adored

Adoration - dir. Atom Egoyan - 2008 - Canada - Sony Pictures Classics

Written for Gone Cinema Poaching.

It seems a long time ago that Atom Egoyan, after the successes of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, was among the forefront of international cinema. By following The Sweet Hereafter, which garnered the Egyptian-born, Canadian-raised filmmaker two Oscar nominations, with the disappointing Felicia's Journey, we got our first indication that Egoyan might never create the magic he showed during the late '80s and '90s again. With Adoration, Egoyan returns to the style and structure that worked so well for him early in his career; unfortunately, something's missing, even if it feels like all the pieces are there.

Those familiar with the director's work will spot some of the director's trademarks of style and theme easily. Airport customs, video recorders, fragmented narrative, paternal struggles, Arsinée Khanjian, devastating loss, the nature of truth, traces of personal ancestry. All are weaved into Adoration as one might expect, so why does the film feel so minor league? Like Ararat, the only post-Sweet Hereafter film of his that I genuinely like (even though I'm in the minority), Adoration never comes off like a sad act of self-mimicry. Egoyan continues to pose fascinating, gray-area quandaries; they just don't resonate or haunt the way his films always used to.

I suspect one of the reasons why could be attributed to the fact that Adoration (as well as Ararat) addresses very specific, button-pushing issues where Exotica, The Adjuster, Family Viewing and The Sweet Hereafter tackled more abstract ideas through less particular situations (Where the Truth Lies is another story altogether). It's not that Egoyan is preaching or over-symplifying these matters; it's that, like Charles Aznavour's character in Ararat says, Adoration feels like something he always "needed" to make. This necessity and self-applied obligation to explore terrorism and the waves of ignorance that surround it restrains the director and make the film's mysteries and revelations a hell of a lot less seamless and profound.

Additionally, the importance Egoyan places on keeping Adoration from being sanctimonious gives way for some glaring surface-level problems. It never seemed to dawn on Egoyan the preposterousness of the film's main plot detail, in which high schooler Simon (Devon Bostick) presents an assignment/monologue, with the encouragement of his French teacher Sabine (Khanjian) who also teaches drama, that adopts the perspective of an unborn child whose Middle Eastern father has planted a bomb on the child's mother as she boards a flight to Israel without him. Simon asserts that the story is true, even though his parents (Rachel Blanchard, Noam Jenkins) actually died in a car accident. This "experiment" leads to more social exercises between the boy and his teacher, all of which begin to enrage the (physical and online) community. All the major plot points and subsequent disclosures never rise above their own contrivances, and you can almost see an uneasiness in the way Khanjian, Egoyan's wife and muse, plays her scenes.

Despite fantastic turns from Scott Speedman, as Simon's uncle who raises him after the accident, and Kenneth Welsh, every bit as creepy here as he was in Twin Peaks as Simon's grandfather, Egoyan can't get much out of Bostick, who plays the youthful centerpiece that's so crucial in nearly all of Egoyan's films. After eliciting such a mesmerizing performance from Sarah Polley in The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan hasn't been able to replicate that with Elaine Cassidy, David Alpay, Alison Lohman (though she has been forgiven thanks to Drag Me to Hell) and now Bostick. In his two principle actors, we can see a glimpse of Egoyan's own admirable, but disconcerting hereafter, where everything has become a murky reflection of what once was and the pieces that once fit together no longer do.

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