MONDAY DECEMBER 29, 2014
 
Blog TALKING TO
ATOM EGOYAN
Atom_egoyan.jpg

Meeting Atom Egoyan, you’d be tempted to remind him he was once up for a Best Director Academy Award for making The Sweet Hereafter, one of the most understated melodramas anyone has ever seen. He seems unchanged by the experience, even if the rest of us can’t help but look at him differently. We can always find a way to overlook talent, but damn if we can ignore international recognition. But there remains something grounded about Egoyan and his colleagues, like David Cronenberg, Norm Jewison and Patricia Rozema, who choose to stay on home turf despite the obvious courting to venture south.

But what we owe most to Egoyon isn’t just that he loves Toronto enough to stay here, it’s that he loves Toronto enough to film here. Chloe, a film that many critics are calling a “return to form,” celebrates the city in a way it rarely, if ever, has been celebrated. Those who don’t live here are likely to be drawn into Toronto; those who do live here are likely to be drawn out into city.

Egoyan is one of those directors who continue to grow rather than become complacent with where he’s been. It’s little wonder that when you walk away from Chloe, you take something with you – a bit of the city, a reaffirmation of your personal commitments or a new band to listen to ... like Raised by Swans.

Q: Since seeing Chloe, I have been listening to Raised by Swans.
A:
Oh wow, great. They’re an amazing band. I’m surprised they’re not better known [laughs].

Q: How did you come by them?
A:
Through a friend of mine, who turned me on to their first album. I thought they were just an amazing band that was about to break really big and I saw them live and they’re really, really wildly talented.

It’s amazing, I just got back from this U.S. tour and people were asking me all about them. I think it just says how difficult it is right now in the music scene, when [a band of their quality] is not signed by a big label. Or maybe that’s something they’ve decided to do, I’m not quite sure. But they’re wildly talented and I’ve used them now in two films. I had their music in Adoration as well. I think their new album is great.

Q: Their name is part of the dialogue in Chloe, where it is not in Adoration. As a successful and prominent filmmaker, do you see your role to incorporate other creative talents in your work? Is it part of your own integral creativity or do you see this as a way of helping out others who are climbing towards success?
A:
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think that’s absolutely true. I’ve used Canadian artists within my films a ton. I’ve used Jane Siberry in Sweet Hereafter, Leonard Cohen before that, in Exotica. There were some early rap groups that I was using in Exotica as well. Before that, there was Rough Trade in The Adjuster. I’ve always gravitated towards Canadian bands I love....

I think that filmmaking, it’s really the one [art form] that allows you to bring other art forms and throw them into your visual palette. All sorts of influences come through, obviously from other films but sometimes from music, or performers, choreographers, photographers, painters. That all becomes part of the palette. My concentration is on the frame. My job is to create as rich a frame as possible, and I do that using all of the resources I have....

Q: I think Chloe might be the first to make use of Toronto’s new architectural structures: the ROM and the AGO.
A:
Yeah, this isn’t a film that would have looked the way it does five years ago. The city has transformed and this film is a celebration of that. It’s incredible coming back from the States. All of these people from these great cities are looking at the film and are excited about seeing a large city that they’ve never really seen onscreen before. So that was pretty thrilling. And being able to show off the city and what gives it it’s particular tone.

I think we’re very lucky to live here. There are so many cultural centres now, places where culture is being produced and shown. And the architecture, I think that corner at Dundas and McCaul, the new area, the facade, with the college of art – these are major pieces that are very distinct that we should be proud of. So it’s great to show them to the rest of the world in a film.

Q: Have you fallen in love with Toronto the way Woody Allen fell in love with New York?
A:
Well, I’ve been shooting here a long time and my first feature was in '84 and it really centred on Kensington Market, which was the place I was living at the time. I thought this was really cool and really unique, and I loved showing Augusta and these streets and I felt there was something really unusual and distinct about that. And I think films like The Adjuster and Exotica are also really much based in this city.

Adoration, last year, which is showing a much more dreary side of Toronto, but still the city – it’s still basically the world that is the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway [laughs]. So this is a more glamorous view, there’s no question. But the city has many different perspectives. I think throughout my career, I’ve tried to focus on that.

Q: As our cinema exports, you, Cronenberg, Jewison, Patricia Rozema have been the reigning royalty. Do you feel that there is a voice that you have to take out of Canada, to the rest of the world, or is the cinematic voice universal?
A:
That’s a good question. I think you become universal by concentrating on something very particular. I don’t think you try to be universal, I think you try to be true to your own experience and you hope that by doing that, you are able to create something that [resonates] with different people....

Q: Remain true to your own vision.
A:
Yeah, of course. The world is full of people trying to be something. And the only thing you can really be is yourself. And if you have enough drive and talent and luck, that might break through. But that’s the only chance you have.

Q: What relationship does Chloe have to Anne Fontaine’s Nathalie?
A:
Same premise but very different tone. How can I put it? I didn’t see Nathalie and decide to remake it. That was Ivan Reitman’s idea and it’s something that he developed – the screenplay with Erin Cressida Wilson – and then I got that script. And when I read that script, I was charged by the script itself. I wasn’t really the thinking of the French film at all, even though I had seen it and liked it. But this is a complete reinvention of it.

Q: It’s funny with Ivan Reitman involved, and Anne Fontaine. Let me just put it on the table, I loved Chloe and I thought it had a tremendous amount of suspense, as well as eroticism and human drama going on in it. And I’ve yet to see Nathalie so I can’t make a comment about that. But it strikes me as interesting that the business would go to you – yes, a viable filmmaker – and not maybe ask Anne Fontaine to remake her own film.
A:
Interesting, yeah. I think it’s because Ivan really loved Exotica. He really loved the tone of that. And I don’t really know that Anne, who is a friend that I know really well ... I don’t know if she would have wanted to remake it.

Q: I guess it is odd to remake you own film.
A:
I think it is, yeah.

Q: There is a scene in Chloe where she opens a package of sugar and she pours it on the table. I’m always amazed by little moments like that in movies. And the question that always arises in my mind is: How did you know that that scene needed to be there?
A:
I don’t know if you know exactly, it’s just something that occurs to you. I think when you’re directing, you’re operating at a certain level and this is a film about these little details and things that someone might do.

I think [Jullianne Moore] picked up the sugar packet to play with it and I focused on that moment, and whether or not it was used was something I would think about later. But there was something really powerful about it. But it usually starts with a gesture that the actor finds; sometimes it’s something that you’re imposing on them. But I don’t even know if I can rationalize it, it just felt right. Something is being released like magic powder or something.

Q: But there’s a lot of effort that has to go into an idea that may or not work.
A:
Yeah, but I think that’s the interesting thing about filmmaking, that you’re combining something that is very structured and very calculated with a degree of intuition, which flows from the characters. It has to flow from what the characters are experiencing, as opposed to something that you’re trying to apply artificially. If you’re connected to these characters, I think these kinds of things can actually flow....

Q: There are many references in this film to touch, whether it’s holding something in their hands, whether it’s artwork. Is there something about our need to touch things, about being tactile? And I guess it’s no stretch to talk about our need to touch each other.
A:
It’s something – it’s funny that you should bring that up – it’s in a lot of my movies. And I remember with Exotica, the idea of look but don’t touch and what happens when these characters do touch and the consequences of touching. And I think in Calendar there’s a discussion about that as well, about the idea of touch.

Touch is something that comes up in a lot of my movies ... it’s a funny obsession. There’s always this moment of contact, which is kind of electric and heightened. It’s never that casual because, I think, very often the characters are held at such distance from each other that those moments of contact become really explosive to them and I can’t really explain it, except to say that the moment of any human contact is so rare. So maybe I tend to fetishize it a bit in the work I do.

Q: It’s nice in this film and Exotica. In the levels that you allow this film to have, is it a dangerous thing to work with and around? It would be the easy answer to just fill your movie with beautiful people, which you did. But there was something else going on. How do you make this not just a show of limbs and curves?
A:
By hiring the best actors you can and making sure they’re engaged in doing their job, which is conveying the complexity of human behaviour. That at all times, when you’re directing these scenes, that your priority is what is going on in their minds. What are they thinking? And everything else sort of comes from there. So even if you’re directing the most sensual scene, you choreograph that, but then you treat it as a dramatic scene and you make sure that that’s where it’s all rooted. It has to be rooted in the mind.

Read Thom Ernst's review: Chloe

1 Comments | Add a Comment
I don't understand what the sugar packet scene was about. Could you please explain....?
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