(director/writer: Atom Egoyan; cinematographer: Paul Sarossy; editor: Susan Shipton; music: Mychael Danna; cast: Arsinée Khanjian (Sabine), Scott Speedman (Tom), Rachel Blanchard (Rachel), Noam Jenkins (Sami), Devon Bostick (Simon), Kenneth Welsh (Morris); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Atom Egoyan/Simone Urdl/Jennifer Weiss; Sony Picture Classics; 2008-France/Canada)

Uneven enigmatic social drama that’s framed like an imaginative mystery story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (“Ararat”/”Chloe”/”Felicia’s Journey”) is the writer-director of this uneven enigmatic social drama that’s framed like an imaginative mystery story.The story is told in flashback, veering back and forth from the present to different time periods continuously.

The attractive Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian), who is Lebanese, is a French and drama teacher in a Toronto high school. She has her reasons for choosing an introspective student in her French class, Simon (Devon Bostick), to translate a news story about a pregnant Canadian woman, who arrived in Israel with a bomb in her luggage placed there by her absentee Arab boyfriend. The powerful explosive was meant to go off during her flight. Simon’s imagination runs wild and he concocts a far-out story about himself as the unborn child of his now dead folks, his Christian Canadian mom Rachel (Rachel Blanchard) and his Lebanese Arab father Sami (Noam Jenkins), who was raised by Uncle Tommy (Scott Speedman), his mother’s brother. The story comes across as if Simon’s father was a terrorist, who would kill his family for his cause. The story of Simon’s father being a terrorist travels through the school and reaches the Internet, where diverse individuals in chat groups opine on this untrue story with different responses about Simon’s father being a terrorist.

The boy’s late grandfather, Morris (Kenneth Welsh), is depicted as a bigot, who believes the worst about Simon’s Lebanese father, a repairer of violins who had secrets, and never had a good word to say about his violinist’s daughter’s Arab husband.

After an hour of building up the suspense of whether Simon’s father is a terrorist or not, we learn the truth from the teacher who knows more about Simon’s father than she led on and by the now 30-year-old tow-truck operator Uncle Tom telling us about the events eight years ago that led to the death of Simon’s parents in a nighttime traffic accident and what part he played in the death.

It’s all about long-sufferering characters slowly beginning to come to terms with their grief over personal loss, as it unravels a number of family secrets and makes a plea for religious tolerance as the only way of getting to the truth about Simon’s dead father.

Though the film’s attempt to get at the root causes of racial bigotry and reach out to those who can keep an open mind over understanding different cultures might be provocative and worth laying on a western audience still reeling from 9/11, unfortunately the message delivered is heavy-handed, tedious and not voiced clearly enough to resonate with any assurance the message registered.

There’s a manipulativeMychael Danna musical soundtrack throughout (with soloists Yi-Jia Susanne Hou on violin, Winona Zelenka on cello, and Eve Egoyan on piano) that tells you when the filmmaker wants you to be sad or find things serious or to react to the mood played the way it’s expected, which is not all that different from the manipulative storyline which is so overwhelmingly arced with the filmmaker’s social agenda it would not be possible to think differently (it’s as if the auteur believes the viewer couldn’t think for himself without being nudged so hard to see the obvious–running by us again the old chestnut that even our high tech world brings us no closer to the truth).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”