Atom Egoyan’s latest Cannes Film Festival experience is still a pain in his heart, and likely in other body parts, too. But he does not shy away from talking about it just as The Captive, the film that generated so much controversy, is making its theatrical debut.
“It’s not ‘the elephant in the room,’ ” the 54-year-old Toronto filmmaker says about his willingness to re-live Cannes. “It was pretty extreme. It’s weird because the evening screening (a red carpet gala in official competition) did go really well. But the reviews were pretty vicious. Except for a few, who really got the movie and were able to support it, I would have been really devastated.”
Egoyan sits down for an interview just as the Toronto International Film Festival is set to begin. The Captive opens publicly Friday — not in TIFF — despite Egoyan’s long-standing relationship with the festival and its co-directors, Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey. Two other major Canadians films that debuted at Cannes — David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy — are both in TIFF. It looks strange not to see Egoyan with them.
“Well,” he says as coffee is poured in the Soho House Toronto, a bistro-hotel just blocks away from the TIFF Bell Lightbox, “it was a very practical decision. The distributor (Entertainment One) said: ‘It’s a great weekend to open. Because there is nothing else opening this weekend nationally. If you can forget the festival, we can actually give it a really big campaign.’ I went: ‘Okay, let’s go for it! I called Piers. I called Cameron. I said this is what eOne wants to do. And it makes sense.’
“Another thing eOne said is that, even in this city, people know about the festival but they don’t go because it’s kind of expensive and it’s hard to get into screenings, so why can’t they see a festival film in a regular theatre that opening weekend. So we’ll see if that works. It’s a bold experiment. I’m heartened by their optimism and they’re going off with a pretty big campaign.”
Egoyan is also going to the festival to showcase a restored version of one of his early films, Speaking Parts (1989), as part of the TIFF Cinematheque series on Saturday. So his relationship with the festival remains healthy.
The eOne decision to go big on The Captive is obviously based on Ryan Reynolds. The Vancouver-born Reynolds is a Hollywood movie star known for his good looks and rom-com popularity. But he changes things dramatically in The Captive, playing a man whose nine-year-old daughter is abducted by a pedophile ring and held captive for years, triggering a tidal wave of anguish for the people involved. Reynolds’ character, who never gives up searching, profoundly shows his grief.
“He is a great actor,” Egoyan says. “I was very proud to bring out his performance because it was lurking in him. I just hope people see it and realize how good he is. He needs more attention and he needs to just be more careful about his choices, I guess.”
Meanwhile, Egoyan is being careful about his emotions on The Captive. “I’m really proud of it. I felt really strong about it. It feels like mine. I just think I was mistaken to have such high expectations. What it comes down to is that form of hubris (I have). There were so many milestones I thought I would celebrate this year. It has been 30 years since my first feature, 25 years since I was first in Cannes, 10 years since Exotica and I was taking Arshile (his son) back up the red stairs for the first time since he was a baby. But it just doesn’t work out the way you think.”