Emerging in the 1980s as a talent with a very distinctive take on certain themes (the family, issues of identity, the difficulties of communication) and a strong visual sense, Atom Egoyan is now Canada’s greatest living filmmaker. His most ambitious and accessible work to date, this magnificent adaptation of the Russell Banks novel tells of a small community struck by tragedy following a road accident in which a school bus plunged into an icy lake, killing many of the local children.
An opportunistic lawyer (Ian Holm in a brilliant performance) tries to persuade the relatives of the victims to sue for compensation. In the ensuing atmosphere of suspicion and doubt, a courageous teenager (Sarah Polley) decides to tell the truth about the accident and manages to reunite the community.
As one might expect, Egoyan doesn’t turn this powerfully emotional material into a Hollywood-style melodrama. Instead he develops the story into a complex yet deeply affecting parable. Unlike the novel, which is divided into four chapters (each narrated by a different character), Egoyan’s film moves fluidly back and forth in time, before and after the tragedy, revealing new complexities about the event and the people whose lives are transformed. His masterstroke is the introduction of Browning’s poem ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ as a key reference, which gives the whole piece the qualities of a myth. 1997. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 110 mins.