Director Profile: Atom Egoyan

Being one of a collection of movie directors whose work I particularly like and why.
Atom Egoyan
Best known for: Exotica (1994), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Felicia's Journey(1999), Ararat (2002), Where the Truth Lies (2005), Adoration (2008), Chloe (2009), Remember (2015)
Most emblematic: Exotica
Widely considered the best: The Sweet Hereafter
Most underrated: Ararat
Personal favorite: Exotica
First one I ever saw: Exotica. In theaters: None (as yet!).

Favorite actors: Arsinée Khanjian, Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Don McKellar, David Hemblen,Maury Chaykin, Gabrielle Rose
Recurring themes and tropes: Watching people through screens, other media, barriers. Technology acting as a buffer between people. Men lusting after under-aged girls. The loss of a child. Interconnectivity. Ambiguity. Armenian culture/history. The unreliability of time and memory.
Elements of style: Achronological structure. Second or third generation images. Repeated voice-over. Tracking shots.
Reputation: For beautiful shots, but opaque stories. An intellectual art house auteur unafraid to push viewers' buttons. Open to alternate interpretations of his films.
Appreciation: I consider Atom Egoyan Canada's premier auteur director, even though I realize he's never topped the critical acclaim of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter (for which he received two Oscar noms). But Egoyan is one of those directors whose films are always interesting, even when I have to admit they are flawed. His weakest efforts are perhaps his thrillers which seem aimed at a more mainstream audience (Chloe, Where the Truth Lies). His strongest are perhaps too intellectual and "artistic" for most audiences (Arrarat, Adoration). And so he doesn't seem poised for greatness outside the Canadian critical sphere. Doesn't matter.

I think what audiences have trouble responding to is the stories themselves, which often juxtapose off-putting subject matter with an intellectual ambivalence. Egoyan is more interested in the behavior of his characters than he is in making moral judgements, and that can be upsetting. But fromt he first frame, you ARE aware you're in the hands of a master. Those perfect shots (I wouldn't trust many other directors with representing the Canadian winter like he does), the accumulation of second-hand images representing the unknowability of other people, and perhaps most noticeable of all, the achronological story structure that turns every film into a puzzle to be solved.

Egoyan always forces his audience to be attentive, and to participate. The film unfolds and reveals itself, makes you question your assumptions as to what's happening as much as to what is "right" in the characters' moral universe, and you may finally find that there are still missing pieces once you're done. Ambiguity is a big part of his films. It's built-in. As he respects the audience's interpretive role in art, and allows for multiple interpretations of his work. So even a practically homemade early work like Calendar is a conversation piece.

And I do love to talk about a movie with my friends after I've seen it.

But how do YOU rate Atom Egoyan?



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