Atom Egoyan’s ‘Guest of Honour’ may be the strangest movie you see this summer

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Atom Egoyan’s career has been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. Celebrated for his early films such as Next of Kin, Speaking Parts, Exotica, and the Academy Award-nominated The Sweet Hereafter, the second half of his career has taken something of an M. Night Shyamalan-like turn. The critics who once celebrated him as a remarkable auteur widely deemed his later films like Chloe, Devil’s Knot and The Captive to be star-studded question marks; films that often have great flashes of style and fascinating ideas, but never quite come together into the final product that Egoyan intended.

In a lot of ways, Guest of Honour is a return to form for Egoyan. This is a largely confounding film, one where you very well may find yourself questioning character decisions and certain story arcs. But for lovers of cinema, Guest of Honour is worth watching. In a summer where film releases are rare, it’s a gift to get a new film from a filmmaker as interesting and unique as Egoyan. You may not see a stranger film all summer long.

Guest of Honour revolves around a father-daughter relationship that went wrong somewhere along the way. David Thewlis plays Jim, a former restaurant-owner-turned health code inspector. His daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a high school music teacher, is in prison for sexual misconduct with a student – a crime that never happened. Jim pleads with his daughter to speak with her lawyer about early release, but Veronica stands firm: she may not have committed this particular crime, but she deserves to be locked away for actions that date back to her youth — actions that involve her father, her childhood music teacher, and the teacher’s son.

It’s an utterly bizarre and somewhat complicated storyline, one that utilizes flashbacks within flashbacks to hit all the revolving plot points. But what stands out is Egoyan’s unwavering interest in key themes. Films like as Exotica and Chloe observed obsession, anguish and sexuality through a common lens. Here, he once again sets his sights on ideas about trauma and obsession, as well as the inconstant nature of perception.

Egoyan likes to tease the viewer by slowly revealing important details that he withheld, and it’s a tactic that works well here. Like the memories of the characters themselves, we’re constantly whipped back and forth with new revelations, and we’re forced to step back and consider: Did things play out the way these characters are remembering? The end result is a story about how we internalize key events in our life, and how misguided perceptions can devastate the lives of those around us. Featuring an adept sense of style, Guest of Honour is a well-made film that’s backed by an enormous amount of commitment and conviction. Say what you will about Atom Egoyan, but this is a filmmaker that isn’t afraid to embrace his weirder instincts. And his film is all the better for it.

Guest of Honour is now playing at Tower Theater Miami’s Virtual Theater. For tickets, click here.

Lauren Cohen

Lauren Cohen is the Miami Film Festival's associate director of programming. She also runs the Festival’s membership level for young professionals, CineClub. Learn more about Lauren on Programmers.