Exotica [Blu-Ray]

Atom Egoyan

BY Robert BellPublished Jul 12, 2012

In a sleazy, pseudo-glib sense, Atom Egoyan's low-key, lost soul masterpiece of ennui and tenuous human connection, Exotica, plays as an academic, thought-provoking response to the Sharon Stone voyeur thriller Sliver, which begged the question, "You like to watch, don't you?" a year earlier with a breathy Enigma soundtrack underscoring an intriguing, but empty, gratuity. Why it is that people like to watch is substantially more complex than id impulses and the urge to want cultural signifiers. It's embedded in a variety of assumptions made by surface attributes and is resultantly relatable or easily categorized for individual validation or ego reinforcement. Adversely, the exotic, or unknown, poses its own catharsis, giving the adjacent visual expression of hidden desires or an external representation of personal delusions or a fantasy unfulfilled, which is the direction Egoyan takes in this multi-layered drama of interconnected stories related both thematically and literally through the death of auditor Francis Brown's (Bruce Greenwood) wife and daughter. When not watching young stripper Christina (Mia Kirschner) at the titular Exotica, a niche, high class, faux-artsy strip joint on the outskirts of Toronto, he audits the exotic animal shop of repressed homosexual Thomas Pinto (Don McKellar), who similarly has a self-punishing ritual of offering ballet tickets to sleazy gay men. Christina's motivations for helping Francis cope with his emotional crisis ― less stripping for him than playing out a role of passive, empathic victim ― are vague, as is her connection to the Exotica DJ, Eric (Elias Koteas), whose nightly analysis of what a schoolgirl represents highlights the theme of attributing our desires to what we see despite never scratching the surface or removing ourselves from the equation. Egoyan's commentary track included with the Blu-Ray touches upon this notion, when not dryly doting on what various actors were like or how they found certain locations. His assessment of the subject at hand is shrewd and his intricately woven tail of distressing, unhealthy and often damaging human relationships is the sort of insular, niche art film that once made Canadian cinema a force to contend with on a global scale.

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