In the lead up to the 7th Canadian Film Festival in Australia (August 2012), join us as we countdown the Top 100 Canadian Films of the past 30 years. We'll be posting one film a day leading up to Canada Day on July 1st 2012. Do you agree with our team favourites? Let us know your thoughts!
#2 - The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
On a winter's day, in the small rural community of Sam Dent, British Columbia, a school bus inexplicably crashes into a frozen lake, taking the lives of fourteen children and injuring many others. It’s one of the most shocking scenes ever committed to celluloid, made all the more horrifying by Atom Egoyan’s quiet, understated approach. Welcome to The Sweet Hereafter.
Soon afterwards, big city lawyer Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm) comes to the village with promises to compensate its citizens for their loss. Standing in his way are the secrets and lies embedded in the fabric of most tightly knit communities. Old wounds are re-opened and the healing process, like the landscape, progressively freezes over.
Winner of the Special Grand Prix in Cannes and nominated for a couple of Oscars (including Best Director), The Sweet Hereafter met with near universal acclaim and launched the career of actress Sarah Polley. It’s a masterful adaptation of Russell Bank’s tragic novel, respectful of the material but able to unpack a complex story and elegantly reconfigure it in Egoyan’s trademark mosaic style.
Egoyan’s vision is incredibly assured. Like the Pied Piper for the fairytale, his lead is irresistible, enchanting even as it takes you to places both dark and disturbing.
He deconstructs the mechanisms of grief with startling honesty and emotional intelligence. In doing so he crafts a unique story of redemption, which adventurously avoids the well-trodden tracks bulldozed by decades of Hollywood dramas. Sentimentality, in particular, is given a wide berth in favour of a detached style, meaning that when our emotions finally break through the icy surface, they do so with unheralded force.
Contradictions and complexities abound: some are embraced by the narrative, others – like a fleeting suggestion of incest in a key scene – are merely acknowledged in passing. Egoyan trusts the viewer’s intelligence and invites us to put together a psychological puzzle with the pieces of our own choosing. Each reading of The Sweet Hereafter, therefore, is unique, and encourages the bravest among us to delve into our own psyche and learn a little something about ourselves in the process.
- Matt Ravier
"Egoyan's voice is so clear and loving, his vision so forgiving and his film so intelligent that you come away refreshed." - San Francisco Chronicle
To see the other films in the countdown so far, click here.