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"Seven Veils" by Atom Egoyan

A Film review

After many years, the director Atom Egoyan (Ararat, Chloe) is a second time at the Berlinale, with his film "Seven Veils", with Amanda Seyfried in the main role.
The film is about different characters, which seem multifaceted real. It shows the depths in the theatre business and brings its human relationship networks to the cinemas.

The focus is on the story of Jeanine (Amanda Seyfried), who re-stages as a theater director the opera "Salome" by Franz Joseph Strauss for the Canadian Opera Company.
She is married and her husband is cheating on her with the nurse, who takes care of her mother, suffering from dementia. The crisis of her marriage and various shadows from her past catch up with her again and again during her work.

She dedicates the production to her former mentor and lover, who no longer lives. She was with him, when he premiered the opera. And the commission of the opera, which also includes the ex-wife of Jeanine's lover, wants Jeanine's interpretation to be closely based on his. But Jeanine believes that only she knows what he would have wanted. She only accepted the play for this reason, actually she doesn't really want to have anything to do with the opera scene anymore. It is not really comprehensible why the commission of the opera house defends itself against Jeanine's self-interpretation of the piece, but it shows hierarchical structures that exist and function in this environment.

Similar to what is known for example from "Tar" or "Whiplash", ambitions of artists are shown and conflicts in which they are described. "Seven Veils" is a chamber play, the place of the action is the opera house and is about what happens behind the scene: rumors, sexual intrigues, abuse of power, love affairs.

The film ironically shows what should also be criticized - the dysfunctionality of this high culture.

The core idea of this is good, but it fails due to the implementation. The character studies are interesting, but in the end they get too little space to really grasp the topic. It seems like Egoyans focus is clearly on the absurdity and perversity of what is left rather without comment.

Through scenes in which Jeanine makes contact with her husband via video calls and sequences that are shown on the screen like dreams from her childhood, viewers get a picture of what this project means for her. Another recurring theme is the relationship between her and the original director of the play. In off-tone, she recounts memories of this time while watching his production on the iPad in the evening. Imaginary, she tells her former boyfriend about her worries and what she shared with him.

Jeanine still seems direct and self-confident in the difficulties that arise, her thoughts are often left open. In the course of the film, you can see the structural and misogynistic tensions that arise and Jeanine becomes a person, who embodies madness - it is difficult to stay professional for her.

The original work, which is based on a novella by Oscar Wilde, is about passion and sexual pleasure and how it twists human relationships. The one-act tragedy is perceived as intoxicating, sensual and disturbing. Especially in the time of publication, the work was considered scandalous in many circles.
Salome is often portrayed in the opera as lascivious, as a femme fatale or the "whore of Babylon".
This representation underlines the stereotype that women are seducers who are inherently dangerous and manipulative. But Salome's actions are mainly determined by the wishes and expectations of male characters, which gives her little autonomy in the end.

An exact transfer of this into today's time no longer seems contemporary on its own and how Atom Egoyan deals with this topic can be discussed. In any case, the point of view would have to be on the psychological process that the characters go through during time, instead of on the repeated representation of the ever-induring conflict of the elite and outdated art industry.

This becomes particularly clear in a subplot about the costume designer Clea (Rebecca Liddidiard). She got sexually harassed by an actor, the first cast of John the Baptist, during a costume rehearsal. The happening is, as if by chance on camera, as she creates an advertising film for the theater with his knowledge during the action. The role is replaced, Jeanines Understudy (Douglas Smith) takes over the role. On the evening of the premiere, Clea publishes the video. Egoyan does not focus on telling this subplot comprehensively and next to the main narrative, this plot gets rather lost.

In „Seven Veils“, all actors of the opera take over fictional characters of themselves. The handling of professionalism and madness is probably something that Egoyan wanted to base close to the main work in his film. The way he implements the cathartic on it remains questionable. Through the plot and the many subplots, everything looks constructed, it looks as chaotic as the opera itself. How much of Oscar Wilde's work remains in abundance and his creativity is unclear.
In any case, all these events lead to a climatic turmoil of the committee and a somewhat too melodramatic end of the film, which could have been told in more detail. The plot around the opera society unfolds more stoically than interesting. The plot in Egoyan's narrative style seems tragic and lengthy.

Nevertheless, the story of Jeanine and the connections of the play to her own life is interesting. Egoyan has written a character with Jeanine that can be found unsympathetic and questioned. Egoyan certainly wanted that too.
Whether a film loses or wins in depth of content if this space of interpretation is kept open remains a matter of opinion. In any case, it is shown that people sometimes do not act morally well intuitively or on the basis of their own experiences. Egoyan's narrative style is as perverse or misogynous as the opera itself, but the absurdity in the cosmos of the art industry prevails.

However, the systematic failure of this society, the (sexualized) violence in the theater and the constant memory of the past remain, but various solutions to this are missing. The extent to which the female characters in "Seven Veils" act independently between social norms and follow their own needs and wishes is a theme, maybe it shows also Egoyans attitude towards things. But the storyline and the character studies remain interesting and it gives people, who are not so much into classical literature or the opera a picture.

The world premiere had its debut in September 2023 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Now it was performed at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2024. The film has 109 minutes.


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