PRINT December 1995

J. Hoberman


Atom Egoyan’s EXOTICA unfolds in several sites at once—most spectacularly in the eponymous table-dance emporium. The main attraction in this mock harem of Roman pillars and potted palms is the enigmatic Christina—lithe, solemn, and dressed in a schoolgirl’s uniform—who wanders out under the blue lights and breaks into a slow-motion, spastic performance, raising her tartan skirt and gyrating to Leonard Cohen’s sepulchral drone. This ceremonial performance informs a series of repeated set pieces, connected by dreamy sound bridges and interspersed with flashbacks. The narrative inches simultaneously forward and backward—tension building through the gradual elucidation of the characters’ connections (including blackmail, murder, and adultery)—to a climax both powerfully ordinary and extraordinarily sad.

More than any previous Egoyan film, Exotica exploits repetition to assuage trauma and conjure absence. While his earlier flicks were set in a video phantom zone, Exotica examines the loneliness of life amid a paradise of paid surrogates. The film’s argument is played out entirely in images or the imagination. For both the characters and the viewer, Exotica expresses a longing beyond its frame, beyond words.


The most predictably dismal trend in 1995 was the attempt to trade on Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Get Shorty is Tarantino lite, and even Sylvester Stallone could be seen lifting John Wooisms in his turgid Assassins. Worse, the Sundance Film Festival, where Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs originally stunned the world, brought A FLOOD OF FAUX TARANTINO THRILLERS. The Usual Suspects’ all-star, chemistry-free cast, bogus plot twist, and insipid dialogue somehow inspired rote overpraise. The even more calculated Coldblooded, predicated on the notion of Jason Priestly as a comic hit-man, was stupefying. Fall Time reinscribes a Reservoir Dogs failed caper into the (yawn) ’50s with Mickey Rourke in the Michael Madsen role. Even the hapless Search and Destroy copped a Tarantinoesque antic belligerence. Still to come: Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. Are you holding your breath?

J. Hoberman writes on film for The Village Voice.