Atom Egoyan, director; Alliance Films/New Line Home Video; 2.35:1
Anamorphic Letterbox; Dolby Digital 5.1 English & French, English,
French & Spanish Subtitles; 116 Minutes
If this film stops people talking about Mon Oncle Antoine and Goin’ Down The Road as great Canadian films, then it will have served a good purpose, as far as I’m concerned. The Sweet Hereafter is probably the best Canadian film ever, and so far the highest grossing one at the box office. Atom Egoyan has woven a complex web of recollections of a school bus crash by those who survived and those whose children didn’t, as they talk to a lawyer, played by Ian Holm, who is trying to get a class action lawsuit going against the bus company. Almost entirely composed of flashbacks, The Sweet Hereafter probably requires two viewings to fully piece together, a good reason to own this DVD. Like Silence of the Lambs, this film is story-telling at its highest level, and beautifully shot to boot, set in the B.C. interior.
It won the Grand Prix at the 1997 Cannes Festival, and was nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards. The film is adapted from a novel by American writer Russell Banks, and the story itself was based on an actual school bus crash and its aftermath in New England. Banks was actively involved in its translation to the screen. It’s a complex story, with subplots involving incest and the lawyer’s daughter’s descent into drugs, but it is a moving one that explores the way people deal with the aftermath of tragedy.
The supplemental features are definitely of Criterion quality, including commentaries and discussions involving both Egoyan and Banks, and interviews with several cast members. These are restricted to two questions, but do give interesting slants on the way they approached the characters. Most were done during filming, and the actors’ responses are therefore limited somewhat by still being among the trees without having seen the whole woods as anything but a script on paper. If I haven’t mixed my metaphors enough, what I’m trying to say is that their comments might be more insightful if they had seen the final cut, the big picture, so to speak. Clearly, this film was made for DVD, and the DVD structure was planned from the filming stages.
Especially strong and very moving is the performance of Sarah Polley as a teenage girl who is an aspiring country singer and is crippled in the crash. Her relationship with her musical mentor/father becomes crucial to the lawsuit, and ultimately pivotal in the plot. I’d be giving it away if I said more, but this young actor’s strong screen presence is a major reason to watch The Sweet Hereafter. It is a film you will come back to.
On the technical side, not only is the cinematography superb in capturing all that B.C. beauty, but the soundtrack is also wonderfully atmospheric, though the surround is subtle. There are many reasons to watch this film again and again.
Read our interview with Steve Murno, Sound Designer for the Sweet Hereafter