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SPEAKING PARTS (director/writer: Atom Egoyan; cinematographer: Paul Sarossy; editor: Bruce McDonald; music: Mychael Danna; cast: Michael McManus (Lance), Arsinée Khanjian (Lisa), Gabrielle Rose (Clara), Tony Nardi (Eddy), David Hemblen (Producer), Frank Tata (Clara’s brother), Gérard Parkes (Father), Jackie Samuda (Bride), Peter Krantz (Groom); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Atom Egoyan; Zeitgeist Films; 1989-Canada)
“It spoke to me as being more smart than enjoyable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’ (“Family Viewing”/”Next of Kin”) third feature is a curious and intelligent personal drama that covers contemporary questions about sex, death and videotapes, but remains too flat, academic and opaque to be stimulating. It cast its light on the thought of media as the message, as it depicts a fantasy dramatization grounded in reality–whereby video and TV is examined as a means of becoming more important than life itself. It links those mediums with the way viewers regard the world and shows how easy it is for them to be manipulated and how egocentric are those involved in the industry.

The nonrealistic plot features an intertwining story revolving around an aspiring actor, playing extras but with no speaking part so far to his credit, Lance (Michael McManus), caught between two women. The first is a brooding and almost zombie-like hotel chambermaid named Lise (Arsinee Khanjian) who is obsessed with her long-haired handsome coworker Lance, a gigolo who services the female hotel guests as part of his regular work schedule with the full permission of his supervisor. Lise has rented in the local video store all his films that range in genres from horror to drama to porn and why she repeatedly only rents those movies confounds the alert video clerk Eddy (Tony Nardi), an aspiring filmmaker who videotapes weddings and parties. Lise badgers him into letting her try her hand at filmmaking, as she does an unauthorized interview of a bride that brings repercussions from her family to Eddy. The second woman is a hotel guest named Clara (Gabrielle Rose), whom Lance manipulates into giving him a screentest for the true life story she wrote for a TV movie. It tells of Clara’s life-saving organ donation to her brother David, who will die anyway. Lance ignores Lisa while pursuing the part and builds up a sexual relationship with Clara that continues with video phone hookup; their affair is based on each doing the other a favor. At a board meeting, the big boss producer (David Hemblen) is seen on a big screen dominating the meeting from his distant perch. He upsets Clara by radically changing the script and considering her so unimportant he doesn’t even meet with her, saying that he’s successful because he knows what the public wants.

The complex relations between those mentioned above has them viewed as if they are more like television creations than real people (to make that concept sink in, all the players can be viewed as interchangeable), as it builds to reach by artificial and not too exciting means the filmmaker’s intended agenda of technology acting more to deter our ability to communicate rather than its hoped for purpose to improve it. Egoyan is not interested in totally condemning the communication process through TV and video telephone hookups, but is instead more critical of its ambiguous state in society and how it can, if allowed, subvert our real lives. As an intellectual thesis it takes root with some acceptable analysis, but it leaves a void in being so emotionally cold. It spoke to me as being more smart than enjoyable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”