2009 SFIFF Diary 1

Adoration (Atom Egoyan)

There’s certainly no mistaking an Atom Egoyan film — the non-linear narrative, the technology fetish, the intertwined obsessions with history, identity, and trauma, and all of those secrets and lies. Closest in spirit and form to Ararat, Adoration is another interesting jumble of ideas from Egoyan that, to my surprise, works more often than other critics had led me to expect. I especially like the scenes between Scott Speedman and Arsinee Khanjian, who are the only two actors in the film who consistently make Egoyan’s dialog sound like words an actual human being might speak. (In Egoyan’s defense, the performance of language and identity is a central concern — and plot point — of the film, so some of the awkwardly-heightened language is clearly by design. Egoyan alerts the attentive viewer to this fact by formal means, though I’m not sure if that defense justifies the unfortunate shifts in tone he creates.) Egoyan’s at his best when he manages to balance his wealth of ideas with drama, when his characters transcend the intellectual and psychological conceits they are intended to embody. That happens often enough in Adoration, particularly in the final act, to make it my favorite of his films of the last decade. (I’m still eager to see Citadel.) One final note: Mychael Danna’s original score is fantastic, but I’d prefer to hear it alone on a soundtrack album. I suspect I would have liked Adoration a good deal more if Egoyan had trimmed 75% of the music cues.

Bluebeard (Breillat, 2009)

Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)

God bless you, Catherine Breillat. When Bluebeard started last night around 9:40, San Francisco time, I’d already been awake for 19 hours. Who else under those circumstances could put me at the edge of my seat, giggling and gasping at the nerve of a film? A playful and stylized period piece in the (formal) vein of Rohmer’s Astrea and Celadon, Bluebeard is a wicked dismantling of a fairy tale that, although lacking Breillat’s trademark nudity and explicit sexual content, is no less obsessed with bodies. Mary-Catherine (Lola Creton), Bluebeard’s young bride, is one more Breillat heroine, tempted by, curious about, and fearful of both sexual desire and by sex itself — by the physical, biological realness of it. I can’t think of a better image to represent Breillat’s cinema en toto than a shot of the massive, shirtless Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) being watched unnoticed by his waif, virgin wife. Brilliant film.