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EXOTICA (director/writer: Atom Egoyan; cinematographer: Paul Sarossy; editor: Susan Shipton; music: Michael Danna; cast: Elias Koteas (Eric), Mia Kirshner (Christina), Don McKellar (Thomas), Bruce Greenwood (Francis Brown), Victor Garber (Harold Brown), Calvin Green (customs officer), Arsinee Khanjian (Zoe), Sarah Polley (Tracey); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Camelia Frieberg/Atom Egoyan; Buena Vista Home Videos; 1994-Canada)
Uses its eroticism as a head trip into loneliness, alienation and desperation.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

‘Everybody Knows’ sings Leonard Cohen, in a film by eccentric Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (“Family Viewing”/”Speaking Parts”/”The Adjuster”) that uses its eroticism as a head trip into loneliness, alienation and desperation. It’s a one of a kind movie experience that never ceases to amaze even after its mystery is solved, but it never fully satisfies. It promises sleaze, but delivers instead a fine psychological drama giving us a wake-up call about what it means to be a good listener and a pained person in need of a little tenderness.

At the Toronto strip-club called Exotica, inherited from her mother, the current pregnant single woman owner Zoe (Arsinee Khanjian, wife of the director), employs talkative creepy disc jockeyEric (Elias Koteas), whom she signed a contract with to impregnate her, and his former young lover Christina (Mia Kirshner)–employed as a lap dancer. Christina has the facility of being a good listener. These three characters connect with downcast tax auditor Francis Brown (Bruce Greenwood), still grieving the murder of his little girl and the latter traffic accident death of his unfaithful wife. Francis is examining the books of the meek, bespectacled, gay pet shop owner Thomas (Don McKellar) because the custom officials suspect him of smuggling.

It takes the entire film to give us the back story so we can figure out how these diverse characters link up together after ending up at the Exotica, as it presents its angst-ridden story in a deliberate enigmatic way. A fantasy pic with a plot that seems unnecessarily obtuse, but behind all its darkness there shines a sense of innocence and urgency. It never fully wins me over but it kept my interest throughout, as it combines egg smuggling of exotic birds, child murder and striptease into a perfectly acceptable arty exploitation film. If Egoyan can juggle so many projected stories from such intense performers and not lose his balance, then the least I can do is applaud the effort.

The film was the winner of the 1994 Genie award in Canada for Best Picture.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”