The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
This film documents the effects of a tragic bus accident on the population of a small town.
The Egyptian born director, now Canadian, Atom Egoyan divided film critics and cinephiles in two camps: two who loved his films and those who admire them but not get into them because of his phantasmagorias. With his greatest success The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan received an Oscar nomination and won much respect from film enthusiasts. The film is even on the 1000 Greatest Films of All Time and the 1001 Movies You Should See Before You Die lists. Voted as the fourth most important Canadian film of all time let’s discuss The Sweet Hereafter.
Set in a small town of Canada, probably in the Rockies, a school bus accident costs the live of almost all the children of the close community. Spanned on three different moments the action of the film delivers in one part the actual accident. Then, we follow the work of Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) as a city advocate wanting to put a trial on the people responsible for this tragedy. In a way he wants to redeem himself for having “lost” his daughter to drugs and the street life she is having. The last time span is a conversation between him and a children friend of his daughter set two years later. The constant cross cut between the times of the story is setting the right tone of the storytelling and it doesn’t do a gimmick of it. In fact, it helps to bring the right emotions at the right time in the development of the plot.
We slowly discover elements that were established before the accident and how close and sometimes incestuous the community really is. Then we follow Mitchell who tries to convince every person involved in the accident, parents, Dolores (Gabrielle Rose) the driver who survived, and Nicole (Sarah Polley) the only teen that survived and lost the use of her legs. Even if the story isn’t really as original as one would think so it’s the depiction of human feelings and the representation of the community that is worth the watch. Watched fifteen years after its initial release, The Sweet Hereafter is a movie that might not be as ground breaking because its patterns have been reused numerous times since and we kind of have a feeling of déjà vu or tired means.
Overall, it is an interesting film that I wouldn’t put in my top 1000 films of all time, but still as a pretty decent drama. The presence of Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood, Gabrielle Rose, and the rest of the cast is very good and it is one of the main reasons why this film works as a whole and we can easily understand its essence and its core. This is a movie I consider to be worth a look.