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Member Area
Venice Biennale

It would be nice to do something political (AIS 22)

The Geometry of Passions. The films of Atom Egoyan
The Geometry of Passions. The films of Atom Egoyan. By Gustavo Costantini
Lacan through video therapy.
The very beginning of his first feature film, Next of Kin (1984), presents what eventually became a trademark of Egoyan’s opening sequences: a tracking shot that slowly reveals the place or places in which the action will be develop. In this case, the montage establishes a parallel between two spaces and two different times. A POV of a suitcase (!) that is on the baggage-claim carousel at an airport and the introduction of Peter, the young guy who is about leave his home for a while. Until the end of the sequence we don’t know that the two situations involve Peter, on the one side, along with a voice-over of himself explaining what he thinks about his family; on the other, the result of these thoughts, which made him abandon his home in order to spend some time with another family pretending to be the lost son of an old Armenian couple. He discovered these people after taking some sessions of ‘video therapy’ with his parents. In this institution, one day he pretends to be a doctor and he is able to see the tapes of the other families. When he finds out one that is in trouble because of a sort of ghost - this lost son - he decides to do something about their sadness. However, he is really trying to understand the logic of his family through the looking glass of another. The question that Egoyan asks here will be one of the questions that appears in all his work: What is a family about? What is a community? How are people connected?
This video therapy should not be overlooked: despite being funny, and one of the keys to understanding the subtle and not always appreciated (black) humour that Egoyan presents in all his films - even Ararat - it introduces the use of different media inside the film. Egoyan is able to explore the identity of the characters and the nature of the relationships, not directly, but through someone else’s eyes. Probably unconscious, these eyes are like the eyes of God, a God of an electronic age. Peter is accomplishing a mission, like an angel, since he tries to know who he is but most of all he is trying to make these people happy. The idea of Peter as a resurrection of the son should not be underrated as a possible interpretation of the whole meaning of the film, or at least to find out a way to heal the pain.
What surprises seeing Next of Kin today is not only its freshness, but also the precision of the montage and sound structures. It is not by chance that the voice says “giving direction to other people’s lives” in sync with a turn of the suitcase on the revolving belt. Most of the time Egoyan is thinking like a painter, associating forms that produce meanings. The outstanding opening sequence of Next of Kin is built as a parallel montage overlapped most of the time with the voices of the parents (subtle mix with the voices of other parents) in the videotapes. Another sound is added: a sort of pedal1 note that gives a sense of suspension and spirituality to the images of the baggage.
The presence of other media is found in many of Egoyan’s early short films.
In Howard in Particular, there is a silent film atmosphere, black and white cinematography, lack of diegetic sound, and even with the piano accompaniment (although the piano resembles Alban Berg instead of the typical piano scores of Early Cinema). Suddenly, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder is turned on and the very voice of Egoyan interrupts the silent film and introduces the same situation of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, a theatre piece that deals with the duality of a man in front of the audience and a voice coming from a tape. Eventually, Egoyan will return to this piece making his own adaptation to video, and strangely, it could be considered as a re-visitation to his short film.