Film: A cerebral stake-out of the soul

Atom Egoyan's lyrical, understated movie tackles difficult subjects in a disconcertingly straightforward way

The Sweet Hereafter Atom Egoyan (15)

Devotees of the enigmatic Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan will notice a slight change of pace in his adaptation of Russell Banks's novel The Sweet Hereafter. Earlier films like The Adjuster and Exotica have been intricate little puzzles in which character motivation can often appear to be suspended until the final minutes, when everything is brought into focus. In The Sweet Hereafter, there is less a sense of a film being defined by its resolution. This may be because, if you were to straighten out its flashback structure into chronological order, the ending would occur in the middle. More likely, it seems that Egoyan has made a significant step forward in his style, so that he now seems as interested in the journey as he has always been in the destination.

Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) is a lawyer who arrives in a small Canadian town to persuade those left grieving for the children killed in a recent bus crash to sue for negligence. As he moves between different sets of mourning parents, various secrets about the town are gradually uncovered, though Egoyan's lyrical, understated approach is less a David Lynch-style burrowing beneath the surface than a cool, cerebral stake-out of the soul. It's a beautiful film that deals with difficult subjects - incest, alienation, grief - in a disconcertingly straightforward manner, and if you feel abandoned when the picture ends - it seems to finish mid-sentence - you're grateful that Egoyan leaves you with so much to chew over, and dream about.

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