Combustible Celluloid Review - Exotica (1994), Atom Egoyan, Atom Egoyan, Bruce Greenwood, Mia Kirshner, Don McKellar, Elias Koteas, Arsinée Khanjian, Victor Garber, Sarah Polley, Damon D'Oliveira
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With: Bruce Greenwood, Mia Kirshner, Don McKellar, Elias Koteas, Arsinée Khanjian, Victor Garber, Sarah Polley, Damon D'Oliveira
Written by: Atom Egoyan
Directed by: Atom Egoyan
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Running Time: 103
Date: 03/24/1995

Exotica (1994)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Mysteries of Her World

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Atom Egoyan's superb breakthrough film Exotica captured the imaginations of critics at the time, inspiring Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Andrew Sarris, J. Hoberman, and Jonathan Rosenbaum, as well as others, to agree that it was one of the ten best films of 1995. It holds up beautifully in 2022, on a new Criterion Blu-ray. Egoyan's soft, quiet tones, lived-in spaces, and characters that hide more than they reveal, are still bracing. It's a film of sadness and mystery and it invites you to find comfort in these things, to embrace them, rather than push them away.

It centers around five main characters, whose lives intertwine in surprising and revealing ways. Francis (Bruce Greenwood) is a tax auditor, assigned to look into the affairs of Thomas (Don McKellar), a pet shop owner. Thomas is, indeed, smuggling rare bird eggs on the side, which is illegal, and lucrative. After work, Francis likes to hang out at an upscale gentlemen's club, run by Zoe (Arsinée Khanjian). Zoe is pregnant by the club's DJ, Eric (Elias Koteas), who narrates the evening's events in purring tones. But rather than focusing on his impending fatherhood, Eric still burns for the beautiful dancer Christina (Mia Kirshner), who is the favorite of Francis. He pays extra for private dances at his table. The story turns when Eric convinces Francis to touch Christina during a dance, which is strictly against the rules of the club.

Beautifully placed flashbacks fill in the rest of the story. Eric's perch at the club is above all the action, and he occasionally wanders around and watches Frances through peepholes. The petshop is the opposite of the cool, blue club, hot and noisy and cluttered. The clashing of the two spaces creates a vivid sense of humanity, of facades and the cracks therein. Victor Garber and a 14-year-old Sarah Polley co-star.

The 2022 Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection offers a massive upgrade from the old 1995 Miramax DVD. It's newly restored in 4K, supervised by Egoyan cinematographer Paul Sarossy, with a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and optional subtitles. Egoyan and composer Mychael Danna provide a commentary track as well. Bonuses include three short films by Egoyan, as well as his 1993 feature film Calendar (which, sadly, does not include subtitles). There's a new, 23-minute conversation between Egoyan and Polley, and footage from the Cannes press conference following the screening. Author and filmmaker Jason Wood provides the liner notes essay. Highly Recommended.

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