An Atom Egoyan thriller is less a who-done-it than a done-what-who, where chronology and points of view are put through a blender and procedural and nightmarish elements are thrown in the air before settling back down to earth.
His latest, The Captive, co-written by David Fraser, is the story of a Niagara Falls, Ont. couple (Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos) whose nine-year-old daughter is kidnapped from a truck while her father goes into a store. Years later, the police detectives (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) uncover a lead indicating the girl is still alive.
Though the case resembles a number of shocking stories in recent years, Egoyan said it was something that happened in his hometown of Victoria, B.C., in 1991 that was the basis of the story. Four-year-old Michael Dunahee went missing from a playground while his parents were nearby. From there, his story revolved around three different kinds of couples: The girl and her captor, the parents and the two detectives.
The movie is certainly a departure for Ryan Reynolds, known as a comedy and action star, but whose brother is an RCMP officer specializing in serious crime.
Reynolds says that though working in Canada was not a motivation, working with Egoyan was.
"I wouldn't say nationalism penetrates in this regard, but great directors do. … I've done this for 23 years now and it took a long time to realize that this is a director's medium in every sense of the word. You want to work with good directors, paid or unpaid."
Egoyan, Reynolds added, allowed him to collaborate: "I was with a director years ago who said, 'Don't blink.' I said, 'What do you mean? Can I give myself a break and blink every hour to lubricate my eyeballs?' He said, 'It betrays vulnerability.' And I thought, 'That, right there, is grade-A shit direction.' If a scene calls for anger, Atom lets you sit with it, and maybe go the opposite direction."
"You just blinked four times," Egoyan joked.
Rosario Dawson plays the main detective in the case, a cop who was a former street kid. In real life, she serves on the board of V-Day, an international organization to bring attention to violence against women and girls. Through that experience and research, she says, she became familiar with abuse stories and the particular problems with policing: "There are literally not enough cops in the world – if they were on the Internet 24 hours a day they couldn't control this."
For her part as a mother, Mireille Enos (who was visibly pregnant), said she relied on her imagination, "which is a powerful thing and very useful to understand grief and powerlessness and rage. What I can't imagine is being suspended in space for eight years."
One of the darker twists in The Captive ties into another topical news story – the issue of surveillance. The perpetrators in the film have a kind of side business exploiting the anguish of the parents and others left behind through surveillance cameras.
Egoyan described it as "an imaginary cult, which is not so difficult to imagine, once people cross that line. I have no evidence such a ring exists but it doesn't seem so outlandish. It puts the viewer into a place where you're not sure how far that goes and how implicated you are in watching this in some way. It's a place I found powerful, where the imagination, for the viewer, runs wild."
Back in 1962, when she was taking film studies at the University of Montreal, Marie-Jose Raymond went to Cannes with a student film, Seul ou avec d'autres (Alone and with Others), directed by three directors, including Denys Arcand. There weren't enough tickets for her to attend the screening.
Since then, Raymond has gone on to work as a writer-producer in Quebec television and cinema, and this year she's back in town. The occasion was the launch of the restored version of the 1992 surreal coming-of-age drama, Léolo by the late Jean-Claude Lauzon, which screened on Thursday night as part of Cannes Classics.
Léolo was restored and digitally remastered by an organization called Éléphant: The memory of Quebec cinema, which is working to keep Quebec cinema on the global map, and Raymond and co-director Claude Fournier were invited by Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux to take a bow before the screening.
"Vive le Québec libre and bonne séance [have a good screening]" said Frémaux, jokingly referring to French President Charles de Gaulle's famously incendiary phrase in favour of Quebec separation back in 1967.
The joke had a certain resonance Frémaux probably didn't fully appreciate. Éléphant was an idea conceived and financed by Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Quebec media magnate turned MPP, whose raised fist and call for Quebec independence on March 9 probably cost the Parti Québécois the Quebec election. That said, Péladeau's contribution to Quebec cultural legacy has been nothing less than a huge success.
Éléphant: The memory of Quebec cinema, which operates on what Fournier calls an "elastic annual budget" of $1-million-plus a year and a staff of eight to 10 people, has now digitally remastered about 250 Quebec films, with the eventual goal of making the entire history of Quebec cinema available in digital form.
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