Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Exotica (DVD+Blu-ray Combo) (Blu-ray)

ExoticaWhile Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan may be best known for his sweeping, 1997 adaptation of Russel Banks' novel The Sweet Hereafter (for which he was nominated for a best directing Oscar), Exotica vastly surpasses Hereafter in its deeply layered secrets and complexity. "You have to convince yourself that this person has something hidden, that you have to find yourself," states a character at the beginning of the film. Each of these characters--the DJ of Club Exotica (Elias Koteas), the pregnant owner of the club (Egoyan's wife Arsinee Khanjian), the mysterious, school girl dancer (Mia Kirshner), her most frequent customer (Bruce Greenwood), and the lonely owner of an exotic pet store (Don McKellar)--has something hidden, deep within the interactions between each other and the non-linear storytelling of Exotica, which multiple viewings enhance to even greater detail.

After winning many Genie Awards (the Canadian equivelant of the American Oscar) including best director and picture, as well as being hailed as a "Miramax Classic" on the box, one would think that the DVD would be filled with lots of added bonuses, and at the very least: a theatrical trailer. Alas, the Exotica DVD boasts no special features, if you don't count the gorgeous widescreen transfer, much to my own dismay.

Since many critics praised the film when it was released in 1994, especially Roger Ebert, there is hope that a new DVD will be created. The Criterion Collection includes numerous foreign, avant-garde, cultish films on DVD, most all of them boasting quite a few, excellent special features (especially the sadly-out-of-print Sid & Nancy DVD; but not for the feature-less Night Porter disc). One would hope, with the support of a few major critics and strong following, that Mirimax (or Criterion) would release a new version of this DVD, featuring all the added features, commentaries, bios that the film rightfully deserves.

I like movies that reveal their mysteries gradually. Films like Mullholland Drive, Memento, Following, etc. Like a good postmodern novel (no that's not an oxymoron there are a few [Paul Auster comes immediately to mind]) these films are non-linear and one is kept guessing about not only what will happen, but whethere central characters are crazy, evil, benign, etc. The audience is kept intentionally in the dark, and thus on edge, and sometimes (as is the case with Mullholland Drive) there is no clear resolution, no tidying things up at the end. Egoyan seems to be operating in similar territory.

Another characterstic that these directors share is that often their characters are not what one would call likeable. This is the case in Exotica. A Canadian Customs Inspector (David Hemblen) is assigned to audit the books of a nervous Toronto exotic pet shop owner. From the outset, we see that this is not going to be your typical CPA/customer relationship. Things get more intriguing when the inspector finds a pistol in the pet-shop owner's drawer and reacts enigmatically.

As the film progresses, the inspector's psyche gradually disintegrates, until finally there is a denouement of denouements at the end of the film. Finally, Egoyan lets the audience in on the source of the inspector's descent into emotional breakdown. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the ending provides resolution, without relying on clichés.

Another satisfying Egoyan film. Thoughful script. Uniformly excellent acting, cinematography, direction. Worth re-viewing.


Buy Exotica (DVD+Blu-ray Combo) (Blu-ray) Now

CAUTION-SPOILERS AHEAD-EXOTICA has been overwhelmingly praised by the critics. I think the Tomatometer is at 95% favorable. Here is my take on EXOTICA-maybe it will help some viewers to appreciate this fine film.

The film is very much a paradox, sensual but sterile, intense but distant, hollow but haunting. It is a complex story with a relatively simple theme. The characters include Francis (Bruce Greenwood) as a Canadian government revenue auditor who is auditing the financials of an exotic pet store (whose owner Thomas is played by Don McKeller) while trying to exorcise his demons at a strip club called EXOTICA. During his nocturnal visits to the club he pays his niece Tracey (played by Sarah Polley) to baby-sit his seemingly absent daughter. The viewer gets to know the strip club DJ, Eric (Elias Koteas); a stripper, Christina (Mia Kirshner) who dances for Francis and happens to be Eric's ex-girlfriend; and the very pregnant (by Eric) club owner Zoe (Arsinee Khanjian) who is having an affair with Christina.

The plot is an example of elliptical storytelling in that it moves in a purposeful ever-circling way to slowly reveal the connections between the worlds of each character. There is enough misdirection to keep the viewer wary of their perceptions. They must pay complete attention and remember what they see.

There are significant technical reasons to like this film. It is first and foremost a director's film and Adam Egoyan's directing is amazing. A director is responsible for both casting and for directing their cast. For Exotica Egoyan added to his cast of regulars two of the best young actresses (Kirshner and Polley) in Canada. Kirshner's performance provides an extremely unusual combination of sensuality and thinly masked pain. Polley is simply the most subtly expressive actress in film today. They are world class talents who seem to deliberately stay away from mainstream films but have little trouble getting lots of work. Greenwood, McKellar, Koteas, and Khanjian, are likewise excellent. Egoyan kept all six reined-in so that their performances are low-key and restrained. While there were many stylish and beautiful camera shots he mostly keeps the characters at a distance. Exotic décor, busy sets, atmosphere, restrained acting, minimal tight shots, and frequent plot misdirection keeps the viewer from bonding or strongly identifying with the characters. He did not want the viewer getting into the heads of the characters, he wanted us to internalize the theme and to take it into our heads. This way if we pay attention we will learn as much about ourselves as we will about the characters.

The theme is substitution, how the process of living is simply a process of substitution. We grow out of things and find substitutes for them. We lose something precious but we carry on by finding a substitute. We expand our horizons and find substitutes that we did not know about or that we thought unattainable. We need something we can't have so we find something that works as a substitute. Sometimes the substitutes are an improvement on the original, sometimes they are a better match with a new stage of life, sometimes they are an imperfect substitute but the best that we can manage, and sometimes (certainly in this film) they are an addictive trap that keep us from moving on or growing.

Most people's dreams don't come true and they settle for a substitute, often without really noticing. The most compelling scene in `Field of Dreams' is when Burt Lancaster is talking about what it was like to give up his dream of playing major league baseball. He says: `It was like coming this close to your dream and then watching it brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time I didn't think much about it. We just don't recognize the most significant moments in our lives when they happen. Back then I thought: there will be other days, I didn't realize that was the only day'. While his character accepted the end of his dream and substituted a life as the town doctor, in Exotica the substitutes are dysfunctional because there is no acceptance. That is why so many of the substitutions involve payment, a transactional substitution is a temporary event and allows the illusion to stay alive.

Exotica focuses on the substitutes used by its central characters. Francis substitutes Christina for his daughter and Tracey for Christina (when she was his daughter's babysitter). Eric substitutes his club DJ job for the career he wanted in radio, he substitutes his voyeurism in the club for his inability to have a lasting relationship. Zoe substitutes for her dead mother and continues to run the club, instead of a husband she has Eric contractually substitute so that she can have a baby. Thomas substitutes his opera liaisons for a real relationship and substitutes an incubator for the eggs he has taken from a nest. Christina substitutes a protective Francis for her uncaring and probably abusive father. Voyeurism substitutes for interaction.

Eric's voyeurism eventually leads him to the conclusion that the Francis-Christina mutual dependency has gone from a temporary coping mechanism to an addictive trap. He elects to destroy that relationship by convincing Francis to touch Christina. Eric knows that the relationship must end once this occurs, no matter how Christina reacts. Either she will no longer be able to use Francis because he betrayed her trust or Francis will no longer be able to use her because he can no longer maintain his illusion of protecting her purity. Then they will both have to move on and seek new and hopefully more positive substitutes.

Contrary to some who have commented on this film I did not see any real `plot holes'. Almost every detail is eventually explained and if anything Egoyan made the plot a little too predictable. But at least this was balanced by some interesting misdirection-like having Tracey live above a shabby strip mall so you jump to the conclusion that she is a child prostitute and that Francis has a thing for young girls. Certainly on the second viewing it is clear that many clues are provided and that the outcome is being subtly telegraphed throughout the film in a kind of mental striptease.

As already mentioned, the really unique feature of this movie is that the viewer does not really connect with the characters but instead connects with the substitution theme. The audience is given a new perspective from which to think about their own substitutions. Perceptive members of the audience are forced to be more than observers. This is powerful stuff.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Read Best Reviews of Exotica (DVD+Blu-ray Combo) (Blu-ray) Here

In my opinion, Atom Egoyan's EXOTICA is one of the best movies of the last decade. Those of us who had the opportunity to watch in the eighties Egoyan's first movies such as THE ADJUSTER or FAMILY VIEWING are not surprised by the nowadays international recognition of the armenian-canadian director. With EXOTICA, he has joined the very small guild of the writer/directors whose name will be remembered in the future.

Atom Egoyan is treating such universal themes as Redemption, Guiltiness or Desire, mixing them in a puzzle of images and subplots that leave us petrified by the beauty of the movie and the deepness of the feelings experienced by the characters. EXOTICA, like a book you cherish, must be seen several times in order to appreciate the complexity of the screenplay. Don't hesitate to buy it, you cannot be wrong with this movie.

There are alas no bonus features with this Disney/Buena Vista DVD, a company that prefers present extra long documentaries about the making of some infantile movie rather than contribute to the nobler but less profitable effort to help true artists reveal their work. Shame.

A DVD zone your library.

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This is an undiscovered gem of a film with an incredibly inventive and powerful script that is sure to suprise and please. 'Exotica', a "Gentleman's Club", is the focal point of a world in search of meaning. Men come not just to watch beautiful women sensually dance in various stages of undress. They come to forget, however briefly, the pain and suffering they have experienced in the world outside.

Christina (Mia Kirshner) and Eric (Elias Koteas) work at the club, Christina as a dancer, Eric as the DJ. As the customers watch the enchanting Christina perform on-stage and privately, Eric watches the customers watch her. As you might have guessed, while moods and emotions are generally muted and controlled within the confines of Exotica they are forever on the verge of breaking through the illusory nature created and sustained by alcohol and sexual stimulation. There are untold stories to be brought into the light of day and only when the truth is known will the many tangled relationships and reasons for being there finally make sense.

Director Atom Egoyan has conjoured up a place outside of time and space, a purgatorial oasis where all regrets, memories and hopes converge into the incessant drone of the music and the tantalizing movements of the dancers. Truly a stunning vision that will stay with the viewer for quite sometime. Definitely not a film for everyone, 'Exotica' deals with adult situations and contains numerous scenes of nudity and some mild homosexuality. However this thoughtful, probing tale ultimately transcends most of the dark, depressing elements and offers a ray of hope and forgiveness. If you're the adventureous type who is looking for something different 'Exotica' is definitely the film for you.

Mia Kirshner and Elias Koteas (two of my favorite actresses/actors) are fantastic. Also wonderful performances by Bruce Greenwood, Don McKellar, Arsinee Khanjian and a young Sarah Polley.

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