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HTF Blu-ray Review: ADORATION
2 replies to this topic
Posted October 14 2009 - 08:10 AM
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Film Length: 100 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English, Portugese DTS-HD MA 5.1; Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish; Portuguese
Disc Format: 1 50GB
Theatrical Release Date: April 24, 2009 (Canada); May 8, 2009 (U.S.)
Blu-ray Release Date: Oct. 13, 2009
Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan does not make easy films, and Adoration is one of his most challenging. Because a terrorist incident is one element of the plot, more than a few critics (all of them American) dismissed the film as a belated entry in the spate of films attempting to address 9/11.
More fool them. Anyone familiar with Egoyan’s films should know that surfaces are deceiving. Indeed, that’s one of the themes that Adoration explores with an urgency so desperate that the film achieves an emotional depth I haven’t seen in Egoyan’s work since The Sweet Hereafter. In a world of ever-increasing information but ever-decreasing certainty, who am I? Where did I come from? Who and what can I rely on? Who is telling me the truth? These are the questions that Simon, the teenage protagonist of Adoration, asks throughout the film. The film is not so much about the answers to those questions as about how Simon learns to find them.
Like many of Egoyan’s films, Adoration fractures chronology. It also fractures perception and memory, which means you can’t always trust what you’re seeing or hearing. You’ll have to take my word for it that the construction is purposeful, not gimmicky, because it also makes it impossible to summarize the plot without major spoilers. The following will provide a preview of certain key plot elements, but it only scratches the surface (and as I said at the outset, in Egoyan’s films, surfaces are deceiving).
Simon (Devon Bostick) is an orphan living with his uncle, Tom, his mother’s brother (Scott Speedman). His mother, Rachel (Rachel Blanchard), was a beautiful and gentle soul with an exceptional talent for the violin. One of Simon’s most vivid memories of his mother is Rachel standing on dock in a lake before an idyllic autumn scene, transported to another world by her own playing.
As he visits his dying grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) in the hospital and records their meeting on a cellphone video, it becomes clear that Rachel was the apple of her father’s eye, while her brother Tom has been a disappointment. And indeed, Tom, who took over Simon’s parents’ house after they died, seems beaten down by life. Scraping by as a tow truck driver earning fees from city referrals, Tom can barely manage the mortgage payments. Shortly he will be asking Simon to raise funds by selling his mother’s violin, a rare instrument of great value and Simon’s most precious memento of his mother.
Simon’s visit to his grandfather’s hospital bed produces one other startling revelation. “Your father,” the old man tells Simon, “was a killer.”
Months later, in a class taught by Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian, the director’s wife and long-time collaborator), Simon presents a riveting essay detailing how, when his mother was pregnant with him, his father tried to send her alone on a plane to Israel with a bomb in her luggage. He claimed he’d been delayed on business and would meet her there in a few days. Only the vigilance of security forces and the accuracy of profiles developed by Israeli intelligence (e.g., pregnant women don’t typically travel alone; Rachel wasn’t carrying enough cash) prevented the plot from succeeding.
The foiled bombing is a famous incident (and is based on a real event), and Simon’s story provokes an immediate response. Among his classmates and friends, there is non-stop video chatter, with Simon’s Mac screen divided into ever more quadrants to accommodate the growing number of talking heads. The mood intensifies when one of the students tells her mother, and the adults weigh in. And finally, passengers of the nearly doomed flight add their voices, because it turns out that many of them have never recovered from discovering that they were almost blown up in mid-air.
Controversy arising from the presentation of Simon’s essay in class results in Sabine being fired from her teaching position. When she goes to consult a lawyer about challenging the dismissal, she parks in the wrong zone and a tow truck is called. Tom is the driver, and Sabine, recognizing him as Simon’s uncle, seizes upon the occasion to engage Tom about the issues in Simon’s life.
Beyond this point, though, I’m afraid I can’t proceed without giving away developments that need to be discovered by the individual viewer. I think I can safely say that, as Adoration proceeds toward its conclusion, the focus appears to be shifting away from the global issues that have previously engaged our attention and narrowing to the concerns of a small group of individuals at the center of the film. But when you reach the end and look back over the ground that’s been covered, you see that nothing has been left behind. You’ve just been given a very unusual perspective on how all that talking and posturing and blathering about the state of the world is still, in the end, meaningless until some individual is able to make sense of it in a deeply personal way, as Simon ultimately does.
The visual style of Adoration is so subtle that it’s easily overlooked. Because Egoyan is exploring life-size characters, there is no obvious attempt to prettify or stylize their surroundings. But certain images stand out. Whenever Simon remembers or imagines his mother, the image is more delicately lit and colors are more harmoniously balanced. When his grandfather is part of the scene, edges are sharper and colors are colder. These shifts work at an almost subliminal level until you start looking for them, and the overall design of Adoration’s cinematography is intended to prevent them from being too obvious.
It almost goes without saying that this is an expertly transferred Blu-ray, because it’s from Sony. But in this instance, the expertise has produced a somewhat softened, almost filtered image, because that is exactly what we should be seeing. Black levels remain solid (as is evident in, e.g., the outfit worn by the “mystery” woman who appears at Simon’s and Tom’s home), and fine detail is excellent where it needs to be, e.g., in the scene in the violin shop, or in the looming piles of lumber that Simon passes as the film builds to its conclusion.
The soundtrack for Adoration is dominated by the haunting violin score created by Mychael Danna, though it also includes selections from other Canadian songwriters carefully selected by Egoyan to accentuate specific moods. The music serves as an emotional guide, bridging the various fragments of memory and time that make up the film. The lossless DTS track delivers it forcefully but delicately. At times the score almost seems suspended in the air around you, as it breathes out feelings that are too overwhelming for the characters to express directly.
For the rest, the dialogue is delivered clearly, and there is a subtle sense of urban ambiance, with traffic in the distance and other sounds of city life. A beautiful track.
Except for the trailers, all special features are in standard definition. Warning: Most special features contain major spoilers.
Deleted Scenes (7:08). There are six scenes, all relatively short. They are additional exposition or character moments, none of which are necessary to the overall story.
Making of Adoration (12:00). Interviews with Egoyan and actors Bostick, Khanjian, Blanchard, Speedman and Noam Jenkins. Although everyone talks about the film and its themes, there is surprisingly little concerning Egoyan’s working method, about which I would like to know more.
Interview with Atom Egoyan (22:54). Obviously taken from the same session as the segments used in the “making of”, this featurette lets Egoyan expand on his concerns in the film and its connection to earlier work. He also talks at some length about his decision to shoot Adoration on film and how surprised many people were, given that digital video technology is so much a part of the film. There is also some intriguing footage from tests that he and his crew did in Toronto area high schools, where they asked students to talk directly into cameras as if they were online; they wanted to see whether real teenagers would behave the way the script assumed they would, and the results are fascinating.
The Violin Shop (9:42). On-set footage in which Egoyan and director of photography Paul Sarossy block, rehearse and film a key sequence with actors Rachel Blanchard and Noam Jenkins.
Take Three (20:26). The raw and unedited take of a three-panel online video chat, portions of which are used in the film. The internet sessions were largely improvised, and it’s impressive to watch the actors sustain their characters. Given the large number of talking heads that appear on computer screens throughout the film, there must have been many such sessions.
Passengers (19:30). Another set of video chat presentations, but these have been edited into a narrative. Only one speaker is displayed at a time. All of the participants are portraying passengers on the airplane flight that was the target, many years earlier, of the aborted bomb plot described in the film. Some of their exchanges are in the finished film, especially memorable outbursts from David (played by the versatile character actor Maury Chaykin).
The Fabulous Picture Show (13:50). An edited version of Egoyan’s appearance on a TV show filmed in England before an obviously knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience that asks some interesting questions about the film.
Trailers. In what seems to be becoming a habit for Blu-rays from Sony’s arthouse label, the film’s trailer is available as a separate special feature. Also included are trailers for Moon, The Damned United, The Class, It Might Get Loud and the inevitable trailer for Sony Blu-ray.
BD-Live. To my surprise, this feature was was active before street date. It provides access to the Sony online site, but there are no additional features there peculiar to Adoration.
There’s an old cliché that every generation thinks it’s discovering sex for the first time. A similar observation could be made about America and terrorism, and I think that largely accounts for the American critical mishandling of Adoration. America came late to the experience of confronting terrorism as a subject. The incident that first sparked Atom Egoyan’s imagination and ultimately led to Adoration occurred in 1986. Far from being “late” in addressing 9/11, Egoyan was ahead of the curve.
What critics missed in Adoration is Egoyan’s determination, which is evident in so many of his films, to work through issues until he can find connections to the everyday and the personal. As a filmmaker, he remains a humanist, not a polemicist. To say that Adoration is about terrorism would be like saying that The Sweet Hereafter is about the legal system. It’s accurate up to a point, but it’s also utterly superficial. The truth isn’t on the surface.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Posted October 14 2009 - 10:52 AM
Another great review, Michael.