Guest of Honour – Atom Egoyan’s latest quirky film about life’s complications
In Guest of Honour, the film opens with a woman inside a church discussing funeral arrangements with a priest for her recently deceased father, and when asked by the priest to offer some insight into his life for the eulogy, she realizes doesn’t know at all.
Jim (David Thewlis) and his daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), a high school music teacher, attempt to unravel their complicated histories and intertwined secrets in the latest film from Academy Award nominee Atom Egoyan, The film weaves through time exploring perception and penance, memory and forgiveness. A hoax instigated by an aggressive school bus driver (Rossif Sutherland) goes very wrong. Accused of abusing her position of authority with 17-year-old Clive (Alexandre Bourgeois) and another student, Veronica is imprisoned. Convinced that she deserves to be punished for crimes she committed at an earlier age, Veronica rebuffs her father’s attempts to secure her early release. Confused and frustrated by her intransigence, Jim’s anguish begins to impinge on his job. As a food inspector, he wields great power over small, family-owned restaurants. It’s a power he doesn’t hesitate to use. While preparing Jim’s funeral, Veronica confides the secrets of her past to Father Greg (Luke Wilson), who may hold the final piece of this father-daughter puzzle.
The film goes back and forth between present and past, so while Jim is actually dead, he still has the biggest role in the film via flashback scenes. He once had a great business in the hospitality industry, which ended, and he decided to take up a second career as a food safety inspector. He takes his job very seriously, often for personal reasons. What we eventually learn through back scenes is that his relationship with Veronica has been tumultuous from early childhood, becoming more so after the passing of his wife passed from cancer.
Veronica also her own demons when she is tricked into having a relationship with one of her younger students, which she didn’t actually have, but confessed to anyways because she felt she deserved the punishment, which included time in jail. Jim is heartbroken over his daughter’s choice, eventually finding out that it was all a hoax that she herself fully played into.
The rest of the film revolves around these two main story lines, with quirky interludes throughout. David Thewlis carries the film through to the end with a solid performance that see him dealing with family conflicts, complicated relationships, secret histories, personal demons, and a rabbit. This is classic Egoyan, and classic CanCon, similar to other great Canadian directors, David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin.
Give it a go!
2019 / 1:85:1 / Canada / English / 120 min
Elevation Pictures, Kino Lorber
Watch Guest of Honour at home now
The film is also available across all major platforms – iTunes, Rogers, Bell, Cineplex Store, Shaw, and GooglePlay, or buy it on Blu-Ray.
Starting July 26 The Criterion Channel will release a collection of Egoyan’s films for streaming, including masterpieces Exotica & The Sweet Hereafter
Guest of Honour is an emotional investigation of the bond between a father and a daughter. Their history has been rocked by events that neither fully understands. They’re both in a suspended state for much of the film, trying to understand the nature of their connection to one another.
There’s a very clear sense of time passing in this film. While we understand from the beginning that their physical relationship has ended with the father’s death, the details of their past are revealed in a form of psychological autopsy. The film ends with an unexpected reconciliation.
As a food inspector, Jim – played by David Thewlis – has the power to close a restaurant down, and while he uses this authority to determine other people’s destinies, he desperately tries to understand his own place in the world. His daughter, played by Laysla de Oliveira, believes that she has found a way to a strange sort of peace in her life, until that is challenged by revelations of a past she never fully understood. The character who holds the key to this past seems to be a priest, played by Luke Wilson. The biggest mystery in the film is whether the food inspector, Jim Davis, in asking for his eulogy to be performed by this particular priest, has somehow planned an emotional reconciliation he could never have achieved with his daughter in life.
As in most of my films, I’m trying to find a cinematic way of allowing the viewer to inhabit the particular world my characters are trying to navigate. What I’m interested in exploring is what might be called the ‘emotional chronology’ of Jim and his daughter, Veronica, a way of measuring their complex feelings. While the structure of the film is non-linear, it is actually based on a simple recounting of the scenes as they flow into the characters’ minds.
While the situations specific to Jim and Veronica are extreme, the parent/child bond will be very familiar to audiences. I think every child feels their parents made mistakes – certain ways in which the parent did not express love, or pay the right sort of attention. Those moments reverberate through our lives in sometimes painful ways.
There are at least five timelines woven through Guest of Honour, yet I wanted to create a sense that for Jim and Veronica the scenes all play in a continuous and sometimes shocking sense of the ‘eternal present’. The film itself becomes a sort of machine through which the characters come to an understanding of what they mean to each other.
Guest of Honour is a story told through glass. Apart from the actual glass of the camera lens, which displays the way in which images of the past can be refracted and refigured, there is a literal use of a glass musical instrument woven through the film. The use of glass as a distorting lens, as well as a material which allows the process of creative expression, was an important motif in Guest of Honour. It is woven into Mychael Danna’s beautiful soundtrack in unexpected ways, as the characters come to terms with the complexity of their lives and the
exoticism of their relationship to their own pasts.
Venice International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
BFI London Film Festival
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.