Atom Egoyan has been a fixture on La Croisette since his 1994 breakout
feature “Exotica,” which took the FIPRESCI prize. “The Sweet Hereafter”
won that same award in addition to the Grand Prix honor in 1997. The
filmmaker’s career has by no means taken a nosedive since, but to many,
he hasn’t lived up to the promise set by his earlier efforts (save for
“Felicia’s Journey,” which featured a great performance by the late Bob
Hoskins). “Where the Truth Lies,” “Adoration” and “Chloe” were all met
with mixed reviews, while his latest to open in theaters, the West Memphis Three drama
“Devil’s Knot,” was his worst reviewed effort to date. His last two
films (“Chloe” and “Devil’s Knot”) weren’t given a Cannes berth, so
early signs pointed to “The Captive” being a likely comeback
for Egoyan. Unfortunately, according to the majority of critics in the room for today’s world premiere at Cannes, it’s not the case. Indiewire’s own Eric Kohn called it a “a lazily plotted and largely generic thriller.” Still, some good news came out of today’s screening. During it, A24 announced that they had picked up the film for U.S. distribution.
Indiewire sat down with Egoyan shortly following the premiere, who at the time said he hadn’t “read anything specifically, just the divided responses.” The film stars Ryan Reynolds as a father whose young daughter goes missing, and the ensuing investigation.
Did you foresee a reaction like this for your latest?
I think it’s been hyped as a thriller. But it’s obviously an odd thriller because we know that she’s alive and there’s no panic to find her. All the elements that are sort of set up to create a thriller aura are actually kind of… they’re kind of perverted in a way. The suspense is all internal. It’s more kind of a mood piece, so I did expect that people would be expecting more of a traditional plot.
The way you tackle the plot isn’t traditional in any sense. The narrative is structured like a maze. What was your reasoning behind that?
That’s sort of the way I write. It’s the natural place to locate the story. We’re sort of inside this internal present, and it becomes a torture machine, where people are replaying scenes over and over in their mind. The whole film is structured around this idea of people replaying a moment. It’s a bit of a torture machine in that way.
We understand the choices that people have made, but we also understand the consequences of them. It seems that the consequences are extreme for these motivations that we understand. I was just very interested in these couples. In the abductor and the captive, and that whole relationship. He really does love her but it’s so wrong, and it’s been so malicious. The way he gives her access to what she wants, but then to abuse that.
I get that it’s pushing a sense of what’s realistic, but in terms of the mood it feels like the world we live in. That’s where we are. And that’s what I’m really trying to do with the film – to create an expression of the space that we live in. I understand that will create a wide variety of criticisms.
You have a long history with showing your work here. Critics are notorious here for booing, and for getting all riled up when they don’t care for something, as was the case with many of them today. Do you get nervous about screening your films here?
You get nervous about the fact that it’s suddenly launched upon the world, this thing that you’ve been working on for many years. But you also understand that there’s no better way to launch the film. It’s a double edged sword. You can say that you don’t want to expose your film that way, but then your film doesn’t get noticed. It becomes part of dialogue. You can’t have it both ways.
I’ve had films that have been incredibly vaulted into an unworldly space, a film like “Sweet Hereafter.” That was an amazing feeling. But that doesn’t happen all the time.
How was following a film like that one up?
I was pretty young in my career. I didn’t feel pressure, because I’d done that and that’s great. I made a film, my favorite film I’ve ever directed, “Krapp’s Last Tape,” with John Hurt in 2000. I just think about in terms of the bigger picture. I’m just really grateful I had this career to make these films. Whether or not particular films connect, I’m proud of the body of work that I’ve done. I’m fiercely proud.
I started young. I was here when I was 28 with the third feature. Of course, Xavier Dolan is here at 25 with his fifth. But whatever the case I had this fantasy of what I wanted to be doing, and the festival world has made it possible. I’m grateful for that.
I have a really thick skin. This is a risky film. It’s not told in a conventional way. It’s very dark material. And it’s done to provoke responses.
Critics have been comparing it to “Prisoners,” which is funny given you’ve been working on the screenplay for “The Captive” for a number of years.
Denis [Villeneuve] is a brilliant filmmaker and he did an exceptional film. But I really do wonder… there is a history of child abduction movies, going back to “M.” “Prisoners” is structured around the moment of the capture, and it’s about the moments after. This is very different type of film. I don’t think it’s the same tone. The moment that film appeared on the map, I knew there would be comparisons made because it’s not a dissimilar story.
Are you one to read full reviews of your own films?
Yes, I will. I won’t read them today or tomorrow. I’m not quite sure why. There have been reviews that have profoundly affected me, because someone so deeply connected to the film. Those are so gratifying.
This film, there is a lot to understanding in terms of how people have ended up, and why they got there. There’s been a lot of work crafting the emotional world of this film. I would like to think it demands to be read, but there will be people who are dismissive of that, and I get that as well. You cant absorb everything. But you do look for that one review that validates what your intentions were.
But you know, it’s been a weird trip. “Devil’s Knot” was compared to the docs, and now people are comparing this to “Prisoners.” I just sort of feel that when I look at the body of work I’ve done, there’s a series of questions that I’ve raised, and I’ll continue doing that. If there’s a reviewer who is able to situate that, of course that’s a boost. But it’s also true that if you believe that, you have to read the bad reviews as well. You can’t put yourself in a bubble. I think there’s a side to me that’s also a producer. You have to think tactically as well. You can’t be naive about that.
That’s a very mature mindset.
I started my career, thankfully maybe, with a first feature that I’m really proud of, that got some really dismissive reviews at the time. I realized I had to have a really thick skin if I wanted to pursue this. You can’t be vulnerable. It’s just the nature of it.