Atom Egoyan is adept at creating cinematic puzzles for us to assemble. We aren’t quite sure what it will all look like when it is complete, but as we piece together the various facts and memories, we discover not necessarily the truth as much as emotional and psychological insight into how those memories live within the characters. His latest film, Guest of Honour, is another example of such a puzzle.
Veronica (Laysla de Oliveira) has gone to talk with Father Greg (Luke Wilson) to arrange a funeral for her father Jim (David Thewlis). It was Jim’s desire to have Father Greg do his funeral, even though he never attended church. As Veronica and Father Luke talk about Jim and the father-daughter relationship, we slowly discover the way the sins of the past influence the way people live in their aftermath.
Jim is a health inspector with great power over restaurant owners. At first it seems as though he is very conscientious—he sees his role as protecting the customers from disease. He will not hesitate to shut down a restaurant if it is necessary. He cares for Veronica’s pet rabbit as she serves a prison sentence. She refuses Jim’s help to seek early release. Prison is where she believes she belongs.
Veronica’s imprisonment is as much emotional as it is physical. As a school music teacher, she pled guilty to abusing her position of authority. Although technically true, the real reason for her guilt is based on something that happened years before. She harbors resentments towards her father from when she was a child and her mother was dying. That has created a wall between the two. Jim tries to free his daughter, both emotionally and legally, but she is resistant.
In an effort to breach that wall, Jim begins to use his power over restaurants abusively. He become obsessed with revenge against someone he sees as responsible for his daughter’s imprisonment. But that does nothing to restore their broken relationship. We eventually discover that Father Greg may have the one piece missing from the puzzle that will allow Veronica to finally emotionally reconcile with her father after his death.
Themes of guilt, atonement, and forgiveness run throughout the stories that are told in a non-linear manner. I found it interesting that when the film opens and Veronica turns up to meet with Father Greg, he is dealing with a church rummage sale (a curse all pastors must endure from time to time). The goods found in such events often represent memories or grief or pasts that are painful to give up. The books, clothes, and knickknack are pieces of people’s lives. So, too, as Veronica tells her stories to Father Greg, it is a mixture of joy and pain, of sins and grace, of resentment and of love. Atonement is found not in punishment or revenge, but in the discovery that perhaps the divine can be found in something as commonplace as a rabbit’s foot.
Photos courtesy of Kino Lorber
For audio of our interview with director Atom Egoyan, click here.
For audio of our TIFF19 roundtable with star Laysla De Oliveira, click here.
Guest of Honour is available on Virtual Cinema through local art houses.