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Canadian director Atom Egoyan has been to Cannes a dozen times, had five previous films in the competition and won the FIPRESCI Prize for 1994’s Exotica plus the FIPRESCI, the Grand Jury Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Prize for 1997’s The Sweet Hereafter, which also earned him Oscar nominations for writing and directing. Now, the 53-year-old, who was born to Armenian parents in Egypt and moved to Canada when he was 2, is back on the Croisette with the kidnapping drama The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds, Mireille Enos and Scott Speedman.
Egoyan talked to The Hollywood Reporter about why he thinks this edition of Cannes marks a breakout year for Canada, which has three films in the competition, how he never takes the festival’s selection process for granted and how The Captive could redefine Reynolds’ acting?career.
How do you account for the increased Canadian presence at Cannes this year?
We have three films in competition; they represent three generations. We also have filmmakers presenting in the Directors’ Fortnight and other parallel sections. It’s really, I think, the year that historically we will say Canada finally was able to consolidate this international reputation that everyone has understood over the years. This year it’s celebrated in all its forms.
Is there also a bit of luck at work, with David Cronenberg, Xavier Dolan and you coming out with promising films at the same time?
It’s not a given. Laurent Cantet won the Palme d’Or [for 2008’s The Class], and his next film, Foxfire, wasn’t invited at all. It’s very presumptuous to say just because you’ve had a film in Cannes before you’ll get invited again. This is a misconception. Films have to be one of the best they’ve seen in that selection. When they take three films from one country, they’re going way beyond the quota of representation. Let’s not downplay the achievement here. We’re not there because we’ve been there before. So let’s not do the Canadian thing and say, “Gee, shucks, thank you very much.” This is a moment to be incredibly proud about, and we have bragging rights.
Is there a trend where English-speaking Canadian directors like you premiere films in Cannes, and Quebec filmmakers debut their films in Toronto as they eye Hollywood? careers?
Historically, this will be marked as the year in which Jean-Marc Vallee had a huge breakthrough [with Dallas Buyers Club], the year in which Denis Villeneuve had a huge breakthrough [with Prisoners], the year in which we had an aggregate high point in our culture. Whether or not those films are premiering at TIFF, Cannes or Berlin — we just have to look at this as an extraordinary moment and not think about the divisions between English and French Canadians. Let’s just look at it in terms of the industry and where we are. I’m not going to analyze what the distributors thought would be the best place to open, and [why] Denis Villeneuve didn’t get into Cannes last year with Enemy. It doesn’t really matter. All that matters is these films are breaking through, and we have some of the top filmmakers in the world.
How much do you credit Canada’s support for a generation of auteur directors like yourself?
A certain tradition of filmmaking has been supported, and it’s finally paying off in a number of different ways. We still have great films coming up. We’re going to see the new film by Denys Arcand coming out this year. We’re going to see a new film by Charles Biname. Denis Cote‘s film is coming out. We’re seeing a really strong national cinema.
In the case of The Captive, you chose to film in a studio in Toronto and up north in Sudbury, Ontario.
We really needed the deep of winter for this film. And we got it. It was a huge contrast between shooting [The Devil’s Knot] in Georgia in August in unbelievable heat and then shooting The Captive in Sudbury. It definitely gave us the look we needed, a very dramatic winter landscape. It’s incredible having had a recent strong winter, because the past few winters in Ontario had been mild. It felt like the more north we’d go, the more assured we’d be to have winter. And the predominant feel of this film is this sense of the blankness of white. Certainly, working in extreme winter conditions is difficult. But we were very lucky with the way the weather held. And even when it stormed, that was something we were able to work into the film as?well.
The Captive features Scott Speedman, whom you’ve worked with before, and Ryan Reynolds. What did they bring to the film?
One of the things I’m most proud of with this film is it will completely redefine Ryan’s career. It’s a stunning performance. It’s a nuanced, dramatic portrayal of a man who has been tortured for eight years and remains hopeful. It’s a very compelling psychological portrait. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time. He was the first person I sent the script to. He and Scott have very contrasting personalities. That’s used in the film. They are in opposition to one another.
Is The Captive a departure for you, or does it echo your earlier films?
People will say it harkens back to my earlier work, even though it has genre elements. I’m thinking of Speaking Parts, Family Viewing, Exotica — it’s sort of in that space. It’s an original script. I produced it myself. It’s very much a personally driven project. For the people who know my cinema, especially my early films, they’ll see a lot of themes emerging.
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