Guest of Honour (2 stars)

Guest of Honour

Atom Egoyan's misjudged mystery is, at best, entertainingly eccentric

Once feted for films as fascinating as Exotica and the devastating, Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter, the output of Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has been less celebrated of late; sadly, his latest does not represent a return to past glories. Positioning an apparently strait-laced food inspector at the centre of its puzzle, Guest of Honour is memorable mainly for the wrong reasons.

We meet the intense, exotic-looking Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) as she's arranging her father's funeral service with a distractingly attractive priest (Luke Wilson). The film cuts from Veronica's breathily-voiced intrigue and Wilson's movie-star drawl to the subject of their discussions, seen in flashback: David Thewlis's coldly-to-the-point British hygiene inspector Jim, shown lunching in a food court. Taking in Veronica's self-flagellating spell in prison and her doomed career as a music teacher, what unfolds is a hodgepodge of sexual inappropriateness, revenge and health-code violations.

Heavy on the atmospherics, including ominous aural accompaniments, hazy visions of past transgressions, and generic clues, Guest of Honour is as deeply po-faced as it is flamboyantly peculiar – an unusual marriage to say the least. Set to mysterious musical strains, Jim's inspections bleed oddly into the story as he brandishes his clipboard and his eyes move suspiciously over mince. Similarly mishandled are sequences which flit between the malevolence of a bus driver's jealousy-fuelled meddling and Veronica's unabashed joy at conducting a school orchestra, tonal lurches which make the whole thing seem mad.

It can be ridiculously dreamy, suddenly sinister and enormously melodramatic, while it's not long before it's free of anything resembling normal human behaviour. Comical in its myriad misjudgements, Guest of Honour is quite an entertaining curio, the scale of its eccentricity making it sporadically appealing, but forget about engaging emotionally, or getting any sort of grip on it.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 5 Jun.

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