Wednesday, July 9, 2014


EXOTICA (1995)

Director/Screenplay: Atom Egoyan


Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan is one of those directors who make movies that completely engrosses the audience. I’ve been watching his films lately; he’s been a source of fascination and intrigue to me, similar to the way I look at Krzysztof Kieslowski or Wim Wenders. The first film of his  I saw was, “Where the Truth Lies”, a film that intrigued me enough to read the book. It’s a rare erotic film noir that was not only truly erotic, but was also one of the best film noirs since “L.A. Confidential.” I had no knowledge of Egoyan going into that film and was surprisingly unprepared, despite the film’s flaws, for how good a filmmaker he was and how confident a filmmaker he is. 

He trusts his material, even when we aren’t exactly sure what’s happening, we remain intrigued as he unravels his films the way he allows us to unravel them. I’ve yet to see a film of his that is told through linear time. He jumps without any warning, often we don’t realize he does it until later. Take “The Sweet Hereafter,” a film that earned him two Oscar nominations, about a small town that is shattered after a school bus accident kills most of the town’s children. We first meet a lawyer who comes into town to convince the townspeople to file a class action suit, and we find out something personal about him before we’re introduced to him. The bus accident is shown halfway through, because it’s emotionally where in the film it should take place. His films grab us, ask us to come with them on a journey, then holds on to us gently, but by the throat as we voluntarily enter his mysterious worlds. 

From here I come to “Exotica.” Like many of his films, it has that multiple-narrative structures where all the characters come together, but the characters and audiences don’t always know if and when they come together. The film begins with an accountant, Francis (Bruce Greenwood) who’s hired to audit the books of an Exotic birds Store run by an owner, Thomas (Don McKellar) who smuggles rare animals and their eggs into the country. The smuggler tries to meet people at the ballet every night, his only apparent form of companionship. If he wasn’t gay, he might have enjoyed the Exotica Strip Club, where the accountant goes almost every night to get a lap dance from Christina (Mia Kirshner), one of the strippers, who wears a schoolgirl costume. She used to be lovers with the Strip Club DJ (Elias Koteas), who met each other while apart of a volunteer search party that was looking for a missing teenager. She’s now in a relationship with the Strip Club’s owner, Zoe (Arsinee Khanjian), who is currently pregnant. The accountant also has a niece, Tracey (Sarah Polley) who he drives to his house to practice music and babysit, even though there’s no child to sit after. It’s not so much a question of how all these people come together; what’s interesting is how they are connected to each other so delicately. 

None of the characters knows all the pieces of information, they may only know enough to know that they are inherently dependent on one another, and when one character breaks the chain, hidden secrets and revelations get revealed that show just how close and important these characters are to each other. When the accountant gets banned from the Strip Club for a reason that’s not caused by him, he is driven to desperate action, but not for the reasons we think, or the reasons some characters think. It may appear he’s in love with Christina, almost as much as the DJ is, but there’s much more going on then what’s at the surface, something deeper and more critical to the psyche of both Cristina and the Accountant, and actually everyone, and it’s irrelevant whether everyone knows it. The last revelation reveals everything, although it also reveals nothing. Characters in Egoyan’s films don’t always tell us what’s going on in their minds, and we have to insinuate by what they do, and why they do it, just like the characters must instinctively know when they need to reconnect the chain.   

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