Monday, April 27, 2009

SFIFF52: ADORATION—A Critical Overview and A Question For Atom Egoyan

At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Atom Egoyan's Adoration won the Ecumenical Jury Prize: the award given for movies that celebrate spiritual values. Steering The Greencine Daily at that time, David Hudson gathered the conflicted critical response from Cannes08, which bore considerable breadth. At The Hollywood Reporter, Ray Bennett praised the film's intelligence and musicality and proclaimed it "a haunting meditation on the nature of received wisdom and how it can warp individuals, damage families and even threaten society." At First Showing.Net, Marco Cerritos countered that Adoration was "full of great ideas that crash together resulting in a mediocre execution." Adoration then had its North American premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and—upon its screening at the London International Film Festival a month later—Catherine Grant presented an extensive roundup of text, audio, and video on the film at Film Studies For Free. Adoration now sees its U.S. premiere in the World Cinema sidebar at SFIFF52.

Although Variety's Justin Chang complained that "this ambitious think-piece ultimately smothers its good intentions in didactic revelations, earnest pleading and incessant violin music" (emphasis added), for me Mychael Danna's score emotionally redeemed the muddle; being, perhaps, the one element in this narrative that I didn't have to work so hard to understand. I took the opportunity during the Q&A session following the screening to ask the following:

Michael Guillén: I'm impressed with Mychael Danna's score, which comes across as a dominant character in this ensemble. Can you speak to your collaboration with your composer?

Atom Egoyan: Mychael Danna has been scoring all of my films for several years. We have a special relationship. We are now at a point—because of the nature of the relationship—where the score is not something that is added later on; it is part of the conception of this piece. In this film because Rachel Blanchard plays a violinist, the score has that certain sound of the instrument, something ominous. There's nothing electronically treated in what you're getting at the beginning; that's all harmonics with the bows, sforzando, where the violin sounds like the lead instrument. It's a beautiful texture—very eerie—but, I wish you could have seen the musicians performing; it was just so unusual.

All these scenes and motifs that are woven in are part of the privilege of working with someone you trust. It's very tricky with a composer because everyone else is doing something that's quite technical. Your DP, designer, costume designer are actually doing something which is completely tangible; but, your composer, you're asking them—in the one-month or two-month period that they have—to be inspired. It's not like a script where you wait until it's inspired or you wait until it's ready to shoot it. Composers have to come up with that inspiration in that short period. In my book, Mychael Danna is an amazing composer.

Cross-published on


Brian Darr said...

Danna is one of the best in the biz these days. I haven't seen Adoration yet but I will, and I'm glad you asked this question of Egoyan; it yielded a very interesting response I'd never considered before. (though I imagine some costume designers might bristle at their work being called merely "technical.")

Michael Guillen said...

I'm sure he said that just to "needle" them or, perhaps, to keep them in "stitches." Nyuk nyuk nyuk. Whoooo whoooo whooo.