Guest of Honour

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Guest of Honour
dir-scr Atom Egoyan
prd Atom Egoyan, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss
with David Thewlis, Laysla De Oliveira, Rossif Sutherland, Alexandre Bourgeois, Luke Wilson, Arsinee Khanjian, Hrant Alianak, John Bourgeois, Tony Nardi, Tennille Read, Isabelle Franca, Sochi Fried, Gage Munroe
release Can Sep.19 tiff,
UK 5.Jun.20
19/Canada 1h45

sutherland wilson khanjian
london film fest

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Guest of Honour
Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan again adeptly explores the nature of perception, memory and storytelling in this darkly intriguing drama. It's a strikingly complex story, weaving together events from several timelines into a gripping narrative that continually tweaks our own memories and opinions, building a sense of mystery along with quirky comedy and moving emotional undercurrents. And it's played to perfection by a lively group of actors.
Health inspector Jim (Thewlis) is an eccentric who mainly keeps to himself as he goes about his work visiting restaurants. His music teacher daughter Veronica (De Oliveira) is in jail and wants to stay there, wrongfully charged with sexual assault but feeling guilty about how she dealt with advances from student Clive (Bourgeois) and married school-bus driver Mike (Sutherland). And she's also tormented by a past incident with Walter (Munroe), son of her piano teacher (Fried). So Jim sets out to find a solution, even if it means breaking the rules.
The story is framed as Veronica speaks to Father Greg (Wilson) to plan her father's funeral, crosscutting back to follow Jim in a couple of timelines, including scenes with his late wife Roseangela (Read), and later when young Veronica (Franca) had a pet rabbit that Jim ended up caring for. Egoyan fills scenes with little details that link the various strands and open up the characters, providing darkly involving emotional kicks. All of this is augmented beautifully by Paul Sarossy's cinematography and Mychael Danna's music.

Performances are understated even as actors boldly dive into outrageous situations, portraying messy lives that are easy to identify with. At the centre, De Oliveira gives the most compelling performance, creating someone flawed and still sympathetic. Thewlis gives Jim a remarkably singular personality, even if he seems to be outside the central narrative (he's not). As both inspector and father, he is strict but compassionate, only barely keeping his feelings in check. The title refers to a run-in he has with a cheeky restauranteur played by the wonderful Khanjian.

Egoyan is an expert at weaving richly textured narratives that are populated with people who are both elusive and instantly recognisable. The various relationships are packed with assumptions and expectations, as they keep secrets from each other, or at least seem to be doing so. There's also a haunting sense of guilt, and an even more haunting lack of it, relating to past decisions. It's a mesmerising puzzle of a film that gets deep under the skin.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Jun.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall