LOS ANGELES (The Arts Desk)—Atom Egoyan’s stock has dropped a bit in the 21st century. This box-set of his first seven films remains – along with his response to the Turkish genocide of Armenians, “Ararat” (2002) – the essence of his work to date.
These early films have as much personal character as his compatriot and mentor Cronenberg’s. His feature debut “Next of Kin” (1984), in which a teenager escapes his loveless home by pretending to be a Toronto Armenian family’s long-lost son, introduces several themes: carefully faked identities, and the erasable memories enabled by video-tape. “Family Viewing” (1988), “Speaking Parts” (1989) and “The Adjuster” (1991) elaborate these ideas with a deadpan comic edge, and a growing repertory company including his wife Arsinee Khanjian and Elias Koteas. “Calendar” (1993) stars Egoyan as a “nightmare” version of himself, filming in Armenia’s hilltop churches and crumbling post-Soviet cities, bringing the autobiography scattered through his films to the fore.
In “Exotica” (1994), the characters’ cool suppressions disintegrate in the hothouse of a tropically themed strip-club. The nature of the relationship between a schoolgirl-dressed stripper (Mia Kirshner), an obsessed customer (Bruce Greenwood) and a child’s murder is unpicked in a film of interwoven secrets, two-way mirrors and voyeuristic alcoves. Sarah Polley, these days a fine director herself, joined Egoyan’s regulars here. She then made her name in “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997), an adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel about the aftermath of a small-town school-bus’s fatal crash. Polley’s piercing intelligence as a surviving, abused child matches Ian Holm as a fearsome, ambulance-chasing lawyer with a drug-addict daughter and devastated heart. Gratefully helped by Banks’s command of character, Egoyan’s structuring of time achieves a potent grace. His rhythmic revealing of satisfying, deep mysteries peaks with these two films.
Extras include a thorough 1999 Egoyan interview, “Formulas for Seduction,” and three early shorts, “Howard In Particular,” “Peepshow” and “Open House.”