Throughout June and July, the fourth annual Canada Now film festival takes place, moving wholly online with cinemas still shut. Among the highlights are documentary This Is Not A Movie, an intimate portrait of British political journalist Robert Fisk; Anne at 13,000 Ft, an electric portrait of mental instability starring Deragh Campbell; and Louise Aerchambault’s And The Birds Rained Down, the story of three hermits who have gone off the grid to live in rural Quebec. The festival opens, however, with Guest of Honour, the new film by Atom Egoyan, which – like the aforementioned – is being streamed on Curzon Home Cinema.
Alongside David Cronenberg, Egoyan has long been regarded as Canada’s foremost contemporary filmmaker, with such films as The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica and Felicia’s Journey. Of late, it feels like he’s somewhat lost his way, with genre exercises Chloe and The Captive meeting with critical disdain. Guest of Honour, starring David Thewlis, is a partial return to form. Almost. An eccentric tale of a food inspector, Jim, played by Thewlis, it’s a study in loneliness and of a fractured bond between father and daughter.
Thewlis is a hugely watchable performer, but aside from his towering turn in Mike Leigh’s Naked he’s rarely given the opportunity to shine in a lead. Here, the film takes great pains to unpack his troubled relationship with his offspring, high school music teacher Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), who is in prison – and seemingly wants to stay there. Laying out its puzzle-pieces, Egoyan’s time-hopping narrative can sometimes send itself down rabbit-holes (which is apt, given the bunny motif that runs through the film), as the story flashes back to Veronica’s earlier years.
The most compelling moments centre on Thewlis, whose food inspector trots around the city (the film was shot in the Ontario town of Hamilton) with his fancy-looking briefcase full of (somewhat exaggerated) implements. Ultimately, he’ll find his way to an Armenian restaurant, run by the Egoyan’s wife and regular collaborator, Arsinee Khanjian, where he’ll be the titular ‘guest of honour’. It’s here where things come to a head for this peculiar individual in what – it must be said – is a peculiar film to add to Egoyan’s peculiar canon.
1. Still from Guest of Honour.
2. Still fromAnd The Birds Rained Down.
3. Still from Anne at 13,000 Ft.