For many years, Atom Egoyan has been read (or misread) as a primarily cerebral filmmaker, when the fact is that all of his films are propelled by deeply felt emotional traumas and his characters’ corresponding inability to work through them. Guest of Honour — which is driven by a memorable and moving turn by David Thewlis — shares many significant tropes with his breakthrough early films, most notably a protagonist who, while professionally charged with protecting society, is undergoing personal turmoil that prevents him from fulfilling his duty.
Thewlis plays Jim, a health inspector whose daughter, Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), has recently been convicted of a crime. Although Jim is certain that she isn’t guilty, his efforts to reduce her sentence are hampered by her refusal to cooperate with him. Despairing, Jim lashes out through his work, pursuing neglectful restaurateurs with a vigour we first assume to be dedication, but soon realize is something more than professional zeal.
As often is the case with Egoyan’s films, the pain is all too real, but the characters’ attempts to deal with their suffering are forlorn, desperate, and sometimes comic — as is especially evident in a bravura scene where Jim’s frailties and neediness come to the fore in front of an audience of strangers. It’s a signature Egoyan moment, tied to one of his central themes: that when we ignore our own grief and deny our own transgressions, we only play ourselves for fools.
Official Selection, 2019 Toronto International Film Festival