15 September 2008 | larry-411
Masterpiece requiring multiple viewings
"Adoration" is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story. It's about that time of self-discovery when the question "who am I?" becomes an obsession. But what makes this film so startlingly refreshing is that it also has a classic structure rarely seen in contemporary cinema. The viewer is never quite sure whether or not the images on screen are real or imagined. Think of a chess game where each move prompts you to replay the entire game in your head. Such is the experience of watching "Adoration," brilliantly conceived and executed by writer/director/co-producer Atom Egoyan.
Egoyan is a legend in his adopted country of Canada with dozens of awards and nominations to his credit (1997's "The Sweet Hereafter" earned him Oscar noms for writing and directing). The mere mention of his name widens the eyes of citizens north of the border, as I learned here at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I attended the film's North American Premiere (it debuted at Cannes, where it was nominated for the prestigious Palm D'Or). Locals hold him to a very high standard. For me, I prefer going in cold, knowing as little as possible about a film. Similarly, I won't reveal much about the story here.
After losing his parents under questionable circumstances, Simon (Devon Bostick) is reluctantly being raised by his Uncle Tom (Scott Speedman). Simon's memories of his mother Rachel (Rachel Blanchard), an accomplished violinist, and father Sami (Noam Jenkins) are shrouded in mystery. Enter Simon's teacher Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian), who might be able to help Simon unlock the secrets that are the key to his youthful confusion. What follows is a brain teaser which takes great concentration. The wheels are always turning, and the viewer is constantly challenged to figure out exactly what is real or perceived, and by whom.
The look of the film enhances the mystery inherent in the story. The use of single-point lighting allows shadows to fall upon already-obscure settings. Music is essential to the plot and, as such, Rachel's violin virtuosity is extended to a string soundtrack that is as haunting as the film itself. Paul Sarossy's cinematography is cleverly integrated with composer Mychael Danna's soundtrack, with tracking shots set to music as a visual ballet. Editor Susan Shipton had a tall order working with Egoyan to craft a virtual puzzle in which nothing is at it seems.
Speedman ably plays the father figure who isn't quite ready to take on the task of raising a teen but does so out of loyalty to his late sister. Khanjian's Sabine is simply chilling and central to the power of the film. Blanchard is a joy to watch -- simply an angel on screen (and shot that way, to boot) -- and Jenkins successfully remains an enigmatic personality throughout. But, most of all, this is Bostick's film to carry on his young shoulders. Appearing in almost every scene, it's his curiosity and angst which drive "Adoration," and it's our empathy for him (weren't we all Simon once?) that gives the film its heart and soul. Bostick is one of Canada's most prolific young actors (he co-starred in Citizen Duane, one of my Top Picks from the 2006 festival) and will hopefully be introduced to a wider audience if this film gets the distribution it deserves.
The moment the credits began to roll I wanted to see "Adoration" again. If there were back-to-back screenings I would have remained in my seat. This is the first film in recent memory which has had that effect on me. There's nothing more exciting and intriguing than a film that plays with space and time, where perception matters more than anything else. What we see on screen vs. what is in our heads -- the spaces we fill with our own thoughts -- are artfully juggled by Egoyan and the result is simply a masterpiece.