Atom Egoyan’s latest film, GUEST OF HONOUR (2020) has just been released to wider audiences through virtual cinemas, after having made its debut at the Venice Film Festival, TIFF, and the BFI London Film Festival last year. While the film has been met with mixed reviews, it was also nominated for several awards, including TIFF’s Best Canadian Feature Film. The film is a poignant exploration of morality, love, and sacrifice, among many other themes, told through the memories of a complex father- daughter relationship.
Former music teacher, Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) refuses parole, much to her father, Jim’s (David Thewlis) dismay. A scrupulous health inspector, devoted to his daughter, he desperately struggles to understand her choices. Newly released from prison, Veronica is now tasked with planning his funeral. A session with Father Greg (Luke Wilson) at a local church forces Veronica to sift through memories and reevaluate the difference between perception and reality.
GUEST OF HONOUR is much like the rest of Egoyan’s canon in that it is a raw and unflinching look at human relationships, and is incredibly moving and thought- provoking, and at some moments, even darkly humorous. David Thewlis provides a heart wrenching performance as an adoring father trapped by his morals and compassion. Laysla De Oliveira and Luke Wilson breathe life into their characters and their on-screen rapport is captivating, lending emotional credibility to the film’s tone.
Egoyan stated in a recent interview with CineFlix Daily that “his characters often make very, very unusual choices” and he tries to frame their stories “in a prismatic way.” True to form, GUEST OF HONOUR, employs elaborate storytelling strategies, such as framing devices and semiotics that are remarkably effective. These techniques serve to create a subliminal tone that carries the viewer through the film, and are not meant to be explicitly understood, but are “embedded in the film, [and] they’re not necessarily clear to the viewer, but you’re feeling the energy of it.” While identifying Egoyan’s motifs and approaches can be valuable supplemental information, the true motivation behind this piece is to elicit an individual emotional reaction, even if the viewer doesn’t fully understand why. In the same interview Egoyan also stated, “there’s a space that is open to interpretation. And that space actually can really excite the viewer to go in themselves in a different way. So when the films evoke an emotional response that means a ton to me, because the viewer has trusted that journey. But I also understand that some people will not [because] it’s not conforming to certain formulas.” GUEST OF HONOUR is a captivating piece of work, and while it is cerebral and complex, it still has visually striking moments and clever editing. Viewers, especially those new to Egoyan’s catalogue, are best to let the film wash over and affect them, many themes are subliminal and are meant to be felt rather than dissected.