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Guest of Honour review – the grip of guilt | reviews, news & interviews

Guest of Honour review – the grip of guilt

Guest of Honour review – the grip of guilt

David Thewlis rescues a mazy father-daughter melodrama

Looking for dirt: David Thewlis in 'Guest of Honour'Curzon Home Cinema

A master at bringing neurotics to bilious life on screen, David Thewlis shines as a peevish, corrupt health inspector in Guest of Honour.

There’s a perverse pleasure to be had in watching his character, health inspector Jim, a British expat in Hamilton, Ontario, suspiciously probing simmering griddles with his meat thermometer and scrabbling for rodent faeces on the kitchen floors of various ethnic restaurants. Alas, the father-daughter melodrama’s subdued emotional payoff barely warrants Thewlis’s nuanced performance and writer-director Atom Egoyan’s intricately nested narrative, which required him to marshal flashbacks-within-flashbacks and four time periods.

“The sins of the father are visited on the children.” The doomed son’s words in Ibsen’s Ghosts apply perfectly to Jim’s daughter Veronica (played by Laysla di Oliveira, pictured below, as an adult). She’s first seen visiting Father Greg (Luke Wilson) at his inner-city church and asking him if he will conduct Jim’s funeral service, their meeting a framing device for a disturbing story that’s convoluted to the max – though maybe Egoyan’s point is that lives lived untruthfully follow tortuous courses.

Once an aspriring composer, Veronica is a former high-school music teacher in her mid-to-late twenties, whose beauty and poise have availed her nothing. She tells Greg she has served jail time for having had sex with two of her male students – one of whom, the smug dreamboat Clive (Alexandre Bourgeois), put the moves on her when their brass band was touring. She was incriminated by the band’s obsessively jealous driver Mike (Rossif Sutherland), who sexted Clive from Veronica’s smartphone.

Another revengeful sick male had earlier bequeathed Veronica a vicious video selfie – his phone later finding its way into Jim’s hands – and something worse. Egoyan’s examination of the misapplication of modern technology, specifically video, in his formative indie classics Next of Kin (1984), Family Viewing (1987) and Speaking Parts (1989) was prophetic, but Guest of Honour is behind the curve in this respect. It more successfully maintains Egoyan’s reputation for coolly addressing the traumatizing effects of sexual misbehaviour and shameful secrets within families.

It transpires Veronica wasn't a predator, but opted to go to prison to atone for two deaths she could have prevented, one of them the indirect result of an act of betrayal perpetrated by Jim, otherwise a loving father, when she was a child. Turning sleuth to figure out why Veronica bears such a burden of guilt, he reveals that, unlike his daughter, he has no qualms about abusing his professional power. He first puts the screws on an Alpine-themed eatery run by one of Clive’s relatives, then – for reasons more to do with his own guilt – on a smart Armenian bistro (run by a woman played by Egoyan’s actress wife Arsinée Khanjian).

In this rabbit warren of a movie, Veronica’s beloved white bunny Benjamin, cared for by her dad during her sentence, plays a pivotal role in Jim’s successive campaigns against the two restaurants. The first shot of him sweeping up Benjamin’s droppings suggests he’s a hygienic housekeeper, in keeping with his trade; the second suggests, retrospectively, that he’s going mad. Jim’s complex relationship with dirt is, of course, Freudian – an echo of his non-physical psychosexual crime against the young Veronica and presumably a vestige of his own childhood (regardless of whether Egoyan created a detailed backstory for him). His history and antics lead him to a meltdown at the Armenian place where, one night, he's ironically dubbed the guest of honour.

This is a deceptively good-looking, but not overly stylized film. Cinematographer Paul Sarossy’s warm lighting lends the restaurants an unpleasant airless quality that undercuts their blandness, as do Thewlis’s leery expressions and insinuating remarks. Mychael Danna’s lush score adds a layer of artifice that accentuates The Guest of Honour's dispassionate tone. There’s enough energy and invention here, however, to suggest that the brilliant director of Exotica (1994), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), and Ararat (2002) can arrest his much-analysed career decline.

Veronica’s beloved white bunny Benjamin plays a pivotal role in Jim’s campaigns against two restaurants


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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