CANNES '99 REVIEW: Bob Hoskins Shines in Egoyan's "Journey"
by David Bourgeois
Bob Hoskins appears to be a clear front-runner for the Best Actor award here in Cannes for his performance in Atom Egoyan's latest, "Felicia's Journey" adapted from the William Trevor novel of the same name. After a six day drought of no major breakout male acting performances, Hoskins has officially jump-started the race with his role as Joseph Hilditch, a reclusive bachelor living in small-town England who's unable to overcome a loveless childhood and crushing loneliness. His famous mother, Gaga (Arsinee Khanjian), was a 1950's chef -- the Julia Child of her day -- who wrote numerous cook books and had her own television program, but had little time for her son.
Life today seems calm and serene for Hilditch, a catering supervisor who loves his employees and lives a seemingly simple life. Although set in the present, he is hopelessly stuck in the 1950s; his house is filled with antiques from the period, he watches and bakes along with his mother's television show on an old television, and he drives a stately, vintage, British roadster.
While he leaves the supermarket one day, a bewildered, winsome girl, Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), asks him for directions. The girl has left her native Ireland in search of her errant boyfriend Johnny (Peter McDonald), who is believed to have left Ireland to join the British army. She's carrying his baby, making her particularly vulnerable and in need of guidance and a kind ear.
Hilditch first betrays Felicia's trust by stealing her money, and thus the web of deception is laid. Slowly, more and more disturbing information unfolds and -- in one of the most unoriginal parts of the film -- we learn that he has a collection of videotapes of about a half-dozen girls he's lured in before.
Throughout the entire film, it's Hoskins' haunting performance that keeps the story from becoming just another sex, lies and videotape kind of film about a man who can't come to grips with his sexual frustration and dysfunction. Hilditch brazenly spouts one lie after another, but because of Hoskins' extraordinary acting control, we actually forget for a moment that he's a liar; we, too, get sucked in to believing him.
Egoyan is yet another Festival favorite with a film in competition this year. It was just two years ago that he won the Grand Jury Prize for "The Sweet Hereafter" (also a screen adaptation of a popular novel) and five years ago that he won the Critics Prize for "Exotica." Some of his prior films include "Speaking Parts," "The Adjuster," and the atrocious "Calendar," which proved to be a major positive turnaround in his career. (Funny enough, this transformation from just another pretentious director to one of great merit and ability seemed to occur once he stopped calling his films "Ego Arts Productions.")
The press reception to his film wasn't particularly warm, but there were two sustained rounds of applause: the first, mistakenly (or not?), at what appeared to be the ending; the other, when the credits began to roll.
Even though Felicia's Journey is not quite as strong as "The Sweet Hereafter," Egoyan's history and proven track record coupled with one of the best performances of the year, make it likely that the film won't go home empty handed.