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Monday, January 23, 2017

Sean Kelly

Blindspot 2017: Canada 150: The Sweet Hereafter

It is time for me to kick off the 2017 edition of the Blindspot Series, where I will watch films from Canada's top filmmakers in celebration of the country's 150th anniversary. First up is Atom Egoyan's award winning 1997 drama The Sweet Hereafter. A small town is reeling after a tragic school bus accident that kills most of the town's children. Lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) has arrived into town to organize a class action lawsuit on behalf of the victims. While many in the town are on board with the lawsuit, others like Billy Ansel (Bruce Greenwood) don't want to revisit that day. The case soon comes to rely on the testimony of wheelchair-bound survivor Nicole Burnell (Sarah Polley).

While active since the 1980s, Atom Egoyan began to make a name of himself in the early 1990s with films such as 1993's Calendar and 1994's Exotica. However, it is 1997's The Sweet Hereafter that arguably put Egoyan's name on the map. Adapted from the 1991 novel by Russell Banks, the film focuses on a small British Columbia town that is plagued with anger after a tragic school bus accident. The plot of The Sweet Hereafter moves back and forth chronologically to show how the townsfolk were before and after the accident.  Big city lawyer Mitchell Stevens hopes to turn the town's anger into a lawsuit, even though Stevens has his own problems involving his estranged drug addicted daughter Zoe (Caerthan Banks).

The Sweet Hereafter was a huge success for Atom Egoyan, winning three awards at the 1997 Cannes film festival, as well winning 7 Genie Awards including Best Picture. The Sweet Hereafter was also one of the few Canadian films to receive major Oscar nominations, with the film being nominated for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In many ways, The Sweet Hereafter is telling a story in three different timelines. In the main plot thread, Mitchell Stevens is meeting the members of the town and trying to organize his class action lawsuit. The film also shows the events before the accident, particularly Nicole's aspirations to be a singer and her complicated relationship with her father Sam (Tom McCamus). Then there is a third plotline that takes place on a plane, where Mitchell is talking with an old friend of his estranged daughters. All of these plotlnes come together to form a cinematic fairytale of sorts, complete with multiple narrated references to The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Probably one of the most lasting effects of The Sweet Hereafter is that it helped to create a movie star out of then 18 year old actress Sarah Polley, who up until this point was best known as a child actress on the CBC television series Road to Avonlea. The film also features solid performances by Ian Holm, who won a Best Actor Genie for his role, and Bruce Greenwood.

While Atom Egoyan has remained a major fixture of the Canadian film industry since The Sweet Hereafter, this film can arguably be considered to still be his most crowning achievement.

8 / 10 stars
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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).