Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)
In fifty-year-old bespectacled director Atom Egoyan’s new film Chloe there isa chilling story of marital dysfunction and intrigue between a charming music professor David (Liam Neeson) and his gynecologist wife Catherine (Julianne Moore). The film is about life and death, language and perceptions, orgasms and music, personal obsessions and Canada. Catherine suspects David of extramarital affairs after finding a picture of him with a younger student the night he missed his surprise birthday. Catherine self-destructive paranoid fantasy leads her to hire a young prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to pursue her husband. From there it is ambiguous if Chloe is fulfilling her duties or just leading Catherine on, the sexual adventures eventually involve the couples son Michael (Max Thierriot).
Chloe is successful at presenting its contemporary period as it showcases Torontonians interconnectivity with new media, urbane privilege, alienation, infantilization of adults, the growing indie-rock movement, transcontinental airplane travel and heath care. The film Chole is attuned to women high fashion. The women are dressed beautifully and revealingly from see-through white t-shirts to dresses to high heels, these items represent gender expectations that are placed on women. The level of success and physical appearance exuded by Catherine makes her plight all the more desperate when Catherine suspects her husband of infidelities. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes about Chloe “I think what’s sneaky and deliberately misleading about the story is that is starts off pretending to be a movie about a husband’s midlife crisis and then winds up as a movie about his wife’s midlife crisis.” The thematic gravity and psychological depth, linear narrative and star power are a mélange of Atom Egoyan’s art-house sensibilities and the Reitman’s populism. Chloe is partly funded by Ivan Reitman’s production company Montecito and Ivan’s son Jason Reitman is executive producer and there was collaboration with Studio Canal and Sony distributions.
Atom Egoyan describes Chloe as “the anti-Adoration” as Adoration (2008) - a film about the stigmatization of ethnic minorities - presented a more desperate Toronto landscape while Chloe – which was supposed to be set in San Francisco - is a travelogue of Toronto’s luxuries. While in Egoyan’s earlier films Toronto was seen as a non-place. The cultural tourism in Chloe is overt as the city is an inherit part of the story from Yorkville and Queen Street, the CN Tower skyline presence, the AGO, the ROM, Allen Garden, Cafe Diplomatico (594 College Street), Rivoli’s (332 Queen Street), and the Royal Conservatory.
Assimilation has been a longstanding theme in the oeuvre of the Armenian-Canadian director. Atom Egoyan was born in Cairo, Egypt and at a young age was relocated with his family to Victoria, British Columbia. Egoyan habitually includes the casting of his wife Arsinee Khanjian in his films. Through the 80s, 90s, 00s the director has been dealing with ethnicity and assimilation, and private obsessions and public issues. Since Next of Kin (1984) - with an Armenian protagonist and a cameo by Atom Egoyan, Family Viewing (1987), The Adjuster (1991), Calendar (1993), Ararat (2002), to Adoration Egoyan has been dealing with what it means to be a foreigner in Canada. This is epitomized in the angry sequence in Family Viewing where a waving Canadian flag is cross-edited alongside an Armenian elderly mother committing suicide through swallowing pills while her daughter prostitutes herself to raise money to take care of her medical expenses. In Calendar there are clear distinctions between the Armenian positions of nationalism, Diasporan, and assimilationist. These ethnic positions have been lost from Chloe as it shows Egoyan assimilated and making a film about hegemonic Anglo-Saxons. Similarly to Egoyan’s non-Canadian productions Felicia’s Journey (1999), his most Antonioniesque film, and Where the Truth Lies (2005). Though, in a Q & A session at the Canadian Film Institute, Mr. Egoyan dismissed the “auteur” theory in which for him would include looking at the themes in work that he has no creative input like his directed late 80’s TV fare of Friday the 13th, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.
A defining trait in Atom Egoyan oeuvre is the perfuming of scenes with a “cerebral musk”. Even though this is his first film where he did not co-write the screenplay, which is credited to Erin Cressida Wilson as a remake of Anne Fontaine’s French erotic thriller Nathalie... (2003). This brainy tendency comes from Egoyan’s interest in theatre that was apparent since his stint at the University of Toronto. His interest in theater is reiterated in his direction in the Samuel Beckett series of Krapp’s Last Tape (2000) with John Hurt, as well his short film Howard in Particular (1979) seems rooted between the Theater of the Absurd and Maya Deren. The emphasis of his cerebral musk is on psychoanalyticism and language. In the introduction of the Chloe, the prostitute in a voice-over says “I have always been good with words”, this scene and many others are characterized by a meta-discourse of character motivation, which sometimes can seem a little clunky as people are talking about things that people typically do not address in conversation. So even if Chloe appears more as an enigma then a fully rounded character, she confronts Catherine with an alternative position and forces her rationalize the absurd situation.
Reviews of Chloe have already been written in several Canadian publications. In the Katherine Monk’s Ottawa Citizen review she is eagerly positive as she writes “the movie hits a sustained eerie note” and raves of Amanda Seyfried’s performance. In Liam Lacey’s Globe and Mail review he is condescending towards the film, not biased by sharing the filmmakers hometown, he writes “Chloe is director Atom Egoyan’s foray into the realm of what might be called artful trash” and finishes his review with “Chloe has an awfully corny ending, including some lurid high-jinks and shocks that teeter on genre satire”. In the Montreal Gazette John Griffin writes naively “You’re forgiven for failing to realize Chloe is the first Atom Egoyan picture that isn’t an Atom Egoyan picture”. While Brian Johnson’s review in Macleans emphasizes the surprise emerging career of Amanda Seyfried “Hollywood’s new It Girl.” There has also been several critical analyses on Atom Egoyan by writers including Jonathan Romney, Emma Wilson and Tom McSorley.
The casting is spectacular, the acting is titillating, the architecture is sinisterly photographed, and the themes are relevant. One of my problems with this art-house production is its voyeurism. It condones David for cheating and flirting all the while the providing the viewer with enjoying lesbian fantasies. These sexual sequences seduce the audience similarly to the stripteases in Exotica (1994). Chloe is a mixture of pornography, as Amanda Seyfried is frequently naked, and stylization as the film exist in a realm of heightened realism. With Chloe, Atom Egoyan has created a substantial film about extramarital-confusion and it proves to be a really interesting addition to the Egoyan universe.-David Davidson
(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 26/03 - 8/04)